© Photo by Nina Luong on Unsplash
22. February 2022

How to create a truly purpose-driven organization

Why an open strategy approach is key today. More and more companies are following the call to create sustainable societal value beyond profit. They consciously adopt a societal role and responsibility to make a contribution for a better tomorrow that serves all of us, including our planet. The more firms serve a purpose relevant to all of us, the more their strategies become relevant to all of us. That’s why purpose-driven organizations need to move to an “open strategy approach.”

It’s about turning “walls into bridges.” Most companies still follow a top-down approach in strategy-making. That implies keeping their strategy discussions among a few top managers (and consultants) behind closed boardroom walls, in fear of risking losing competitive advantage. To adopt an open strategy approach means literally to open up your boardroom doors and engaging in a high-quality and systematic strategy dialogue process with your most relevant stakeholders. It allows you to bridge and balance different perspectives, interests, backgrounds, hierarchy levels, departments, functions, geographies, demographics, cultures, religions, etc. This is fueling sustainable avenues and decisions accepted by all stakeholders.

6 things to consider when adopting an open strategy approach. To transform from a top-down to a co-creative open strategy process, the following six success factors might be beneficial for you to consider – no matter if we are talking an entire organization, a department, a team or a start-up:

  1. Make it gradual. Don’t open it up immediately to all stakeholders. This might overwhelm your organization and your stakeholders. You risk to burn a good idea, destroying goodwill for any next attempt. Start out with your internal stakeholders, i.e. involve your leader community together with some selective employees or external stakeholders first.
  2. Start with strategy implementation not strategy-making. It’s easier to start to open up your strategy execution process, not your strategy-making process, which is bound much more to formal governance bodies and processes. When you have once established a successful routine in co-creatively mapping-out your strategy implementation and monitoring, moving towards co-creative strategy-making becomes easier.
  3. Think in a process not in events. Most companies think in terms of one open strategy workshop or event, such as e.g. an open space. Although this might be a good starting point, it’s important to have a clear engagement strategy for the whole process in mind from the beginning. It should outline a co-creative engagement cycle of strategy review, making, and execution process, its goals, milestones, results, participants, workshop meetings, communication, resources and quality management, including compliance and monitoring. With your ability to orchestrate physical and digital meeting opportunities and touch points, more possibilities and more cost-efficient possibilities of engagement with mixed internal and external voices open-up along this cycle.
  4. Invite those who’d like to join, not only those who are in charge. Most companies limit their invitation to those people who are officially in charge of strategy, i.e. senior managers, or some selective external clients that are close and often least critical. Open up your invitation to where the energy and motivation sits, e.g. ask broadly who in- or outside of your organization would like to contribute to map out your future on a volunteer basis. You might be surprised who applies. Don’t be afraid to invite as well your most critical voices to the table. Beyond the surface, critics can bring valuable insights to do things better, and are mostly a sign of high motivation and identification.
  5. Focus on high-quality connectivity and dialogue experiences. Most companies organize stakeholder dialogue for speaking, not for listening. They hold strategy meetings like normal meetings in 1:many presentation format, followed by an open discussion. This risks ending in debating and fighting competitive standpoints, building walls rather than bridges. To move your discussions into the zone of co-creation, an atmosphere of high-quality connectivity, psychological safety and trust among all stakeholders is inevitable. For such an atmosphere to emerge orchestrating a respectful listening experience is essential. Don’t jump too fast into content, invest enough time to get to know and value each other first. Set up clear engagement rules at the beginning and plan carefully for how every voice gets listened to, particularly the silent ones.
  6. Be clear and explicit on your strategy governance and decision process. Most companies start stakeholder dialogue without making explicit what their role involves and what happens at the outcome. Most participants expect that the collective dialogue process is at the same time the decision-making process. As an act of expectation management, it is important to be clear from the beginning if your dialogue is to inform the decision body, or to make the decision itself. Be transparent about where decisions are taking place, by whom and when. Otherwise, you might evoke disappointments if discussed ideas were seen as decided ideas. This might even lead to brain drain in form of talents or external experts leaving, passively or actively, the process, or even quitting the company.

How your organization benefits from an open strategy process. The firms who invested time, energy, competence and resources to open up their strategy process report of speeding up strategy implementation and deepening the adoption throughout the whole organization. Above that, strategic decisions are better informed, more sustainable and robust. Last but not least, as a result of investing in a shared understanding and commitment about the strategy, more purposeful collaboration energies were released. This is mirrored in increases of employee engagement scores, in some cases up to double-digit percentages.

To open up your strategy process is not the risk – not doing it, is. Because only collectives enable companies to learn fast enough to keep track with the increasing pace of emerging new knowledge, and changing habits, needs and demands in today’s business world. But even more importantly, because shifting towards a social company purpose demands a shift towards a social strategy process to be effective and credible. So don’t be afraid to open your doors, turn company walls into bridges, and invite your stakeholders to bring your purpose to life together. Enabling a high-quality connectivity among all stakeholders has become probably the most important source of competitive advantage in today’s ecosystem economy.

About the author:

Dr. Eva Bilhuber Galli, Founder and Managing Partner of Human Facts AG leads since 2009 her boutique management consultancy based in Switzerland with a focus on co-creative multi-stakeholder engagement processes and partnering leadership excellence. She received her PhD in strategic management at University of St. Gallen.

Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Human Facts AG
Founder | Managing Partner
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