How to Reach Consensus among Executives on the Strategy?

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

How to Reach Consensus among Executives on the Strategy?

🔥NEW Achieving alignment and agreement among the top executives of a large corporation in respect of the strategic vision and strategy is obviously really important, but not easy. Especially at times when disruptive technological changes pose existential challenges to firms.
An article I recommend by Bernard Kümmerli et all explains the process used by Swisscom for the above really well.

The process implemented at Swiscom to achieve leadership alignment around the long-term vision and strategy had the following steps:
  1. ESTABLISH COMMON GROUND. First, a foundation has to be laid to enable a fruitful discussion. An agreement has to be reached about common definitions and assumptions around 3 questions:
    • What business are we in? That might be a different one than the traditional or current business we are in today...
    • What is our innovation typology? Create a shared language, defining terms like core innovations, adjacent innovations, transformative innovations. And placing growth opportunities in these categories while assessing market size, acquisition candidates and competitors.
    • What is our growth gap? Determine the variance between the revenue and profit ambitions and what the existing company would achieve, assuming no major change. The authors make a case to visualize the gap in a dynamic way, showing the gap and how any strategic options that are chosen might affect it.
  2. EXPOSE MISALIGNMENTS. Avoid biases like Groupthink, Spiral of Silence and Abilene Paradox by bringing any disagreement in the open though structured discussions aimed at revealing the reasons behind the differences of opinion. Techniques used to achieve this were E-Surveys about aspiration levels, potential of opportunities, technology impacts, and differentiation capabilities of the firm. The surveys were held among the participants preceding the actual discussions. Next, participants were sorted into 2 groups: optimists and pessimists, adding some relief and humor to the disagreements.
  3. GET PHYSICAL. By deploying 2 active exercises, the executives were stimulated to move towards real, deep, alignment:
    • Walking the line. A physical representation was made of the disagreements on the floor and executives were then placed on this. Next, they were asked to try and convince each other to move towards their position.
    • Casting your vote. Each member was given 100 Swiss Francs to distribute into containers labeled with the main strategic options.
  4. SET OUT THE PATH FORWARD. This plan had 4 major elements:
    • A compelling story.
    • An accountable governance body (a venture decision board).
    • A separate management team for the new growth ventures.
    • Special metrics (like customer centricity and business agility) and incentives.
Compare also: Forget Borrow Learn | Stage-Gate | Disruptive Innovation.

Source: Bernard C. Kümmerli, Scott D. Anthony and Markus Messerer, "Unite your senior team - How Swisscom's leaders aligned around a growth strategy", HBR Nov-Dec 2018, pp. 60-69

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