How to Reach Consensus among Executives on the Strategy?

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How to Reach Consensus among Executives on the Strategy?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
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

⇒ Please react and share your experiences / recommendations on how to achieve strategic agreement among top executives… Thank you.

How to Reach Agreement Among Executives on Strategy
Josephat Olwal Ngesah, Kenya, Member
Interesting subject. People don't always agree on anything. Our different backgrounds, culture and biases shape the way we think and act.
On the other hand, when it comes to an organization's strategy, we have all to cultivate a common ground>. It is about "us" (the company) not me (the individual). This is the time to leverage our diversity for the common good of the company - achieving organizational objectives. Let everyone be heard and let the driving force be consensus on the common goals.
We must keep our eyes on the "ball" and not try to score our own goal.

Unification of Intent Among the Concerned Executives
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
Top executives might benefit from counseling in order to create an intent to resolve the differences. Counseling can be in the form of their own suggestions, or the suggestions can be given by some expert counselors. In that way I think a good intent can be generated before any discussion with regard to the actual commonality or differences is made.
We may differ but we can agree to disagree with good intent thereby allowing any potential solution to be explored.

Creating Executive Alignment on Purpose, Values and Strategy
Charles Alter, Consultant, United States, Member
I think there's too much emphasis on everyone agreeing on anything in most organizations. The bigger issue is whether the organization is aligned with the nonnegotiable values it stands for and it's core purpose / what it does best. After that is achieved, organizations can simply focus on baby steps toward executing a series of short term plans. Once velocity is achieved, it's surprising how the inertia of achieving these steps can take hold in a positive way.
I do like the physical exercise of showing misalignments or disagreements that Swisscom employed.

How to Manage Consensus Among Executives
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
  • CLARIFYING THE BUSINESS WE ARE IN (e.g. are we in letter delivery or promise / trust keeping?) enables an accepted vision of the future.
  • A COMMON VOCABULARY of definitions (e.g. “objective” doesn't mean ‘aim’ or ‘goal’; “problem” doesn't mean decision, solution or strategy) reduces misunderstanding and conflict.
  • The ITEMISED RESPONSE exposes conflict of opinions without conflict of people: List all the “Likes” [optimist aspect] about a ‘proposal’ ONLY THEN list the “Concerns” [pessimist aspect] phrased positively as: ‘How To overcome-the actual or potential obstacles’. As ways to overcome the concerns are created the ‘proposal’ moves to a point at which it cannot be refused. Correlates with SWOT Analysis. “Walking the Talk” to get individuals to move from a position of ‘concern’ to one of ‘like’ would seem to help to ‘fix’ positions.
  • Planning and then MEASURING PROGRESS (with ‘rewards’) seems likely to reinforce beliefs that the decision was right and therefore that the approach is right.

Aligning Executives on Strategy is a Real Challenge
Ioannis Stathakopoulos, Manager, Greece, Member
Getting consensus will be easier if the organisation has a well accepted and followed vision and values. If the executives can fit in this the change he/she is planning then all the better.
To my mind it is important also to actively sell the strategy and change to the other top execs. If the others see a real interest (for them/ their units) in the new proposal it will be easier to get their consensus. There are many ways to proceed with this, but playing the exec power game and politics effectively, for example by employing the help of a well-esteemed consultant to support the proposed change, and by securing some alliances in advance, should make it easier to pull it off.

The Foundation to Help Executives Reach Consensus on Strategy
Victor Chewe, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
My contribution is that the foundation to getting executives to reach consensus on strategy should have been laid before as the performance and effectiveness of teams is influenced by a range of factors i.e. size which brings in the Ringelmann effect resulting in social loafing, cohesion which is reduced if members have divided loyalties and group roles.
Team Development is the important foundation and Tuckman identified 5 stages for managers to manage and exploit, i.e., Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. If team development has been done effectively, it will be easier for executives to agree on strategy.

Aligning Strategic Vision, Purpose and Values Among the Executives
Akintunde Olusegun, Consultant, Nigeria, Member
Strategic resources, values and purpose must all align with the corporate vision and, this must be appreciated by all concerned if the organisation has to ever achieve its objectives.
The success of organisation is anchored on the belief and shared vision of the organisation among its stakeholders particularly the internal stakeholders.
Also, failure on the part of the internal stakeholders to appreciate the need for cohesion in the area of strategic implementation of the agreed action plan will result in disappointing performance.

Exposing Misalignments in Leadership team
Charles Alter, Consultant, United States, Member
Interesting discussion everyone. I recently read an HBR article that specifically addresses this issue by using a real-time polling tool to expose misalignments. Here's the link.

Metamapping Misalignment & Consensus
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
@Charles Alter: Charles I have used the same approach with Metaplan (I use the name MetaMap as the process has a wider use than just ‘planning’). The process provides for a “written conversation”, which enables individuals to display their thoughts-ideas-opinions on a topic anonymously.
It is carried out by writing responses to questions or propositions on cards and then having these displayed and clustered on large pin-boards. This can be followed up by asking individuals to ask question/comment (written & pinned up) to provide a visual display and, which allows for polling etc., on the same basis as your linked article describes leading to decisions that can be signed to; photographed and circulated as the “minutes” of the meeting.
Particularly valuable approach when there are high emotions involved, as it focuses on the concern to be addressed and bypasses the personalisation aspect.
Ford Motor Co. among others use such process for their strategic planning.
However, like any process: GIGO (Garbage In-Garbage Out).

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