Strategy models & frameworks

The ‘H’ Model of Strategy Adoption

and Rules for Strategy Adoption Conversations

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What is it?

Strategy adoption depends on the active engagement and willing commitment of change-makers. The ‘H’ Model of Strategy Adoption is designed to explain this more fully, and demonstrates how to combine the efforts of senior leadership and front-line teams through ‘adoption conversations’.

The ‘H’ Model of Strategy Adoption and Strategy Adoption Conversations feature in Mike’s book ‘The Strategy Manual: A step-by-step guide to the transformational change of anything‘ and are also covered in our Strategy Master Workshops.

How do I use it?

‘H’ Model of Strategy Adoption can be used to demonstrate how active engagement and willing commitment of both senior leaders and front-line teams can be achieved, and how strategy adoption conversations provide a way of understanding and realising strategic goals.


Strategy is, by necessity, owned by senior leadership to begin with. Not because senior leadership are the only people capable of creating a strategy, nor even, necessarily, the best people in the organisation to do so. This is simply a matter of strategy governance. The board has the constitutional authority to approve the future direction of the organisation. Once they have approved the strategy, they delegate power to senior leadership to take the necessary action to bring about the outcomes defined in the strategy. These outcomes, however, cannot be delivered by senior leadership alone. They need front-line teams to deliver strategic change.

Goal Atlas - 'H' Model showing what Strategy comprises

Step 1: Strategy is originally owned by senior leadership. A good strategy specifies a destination and defines a handful of core strategic goals by which that destination will be reached. This strategy then needs to be adopted across the organisation, so that strategic change can be driven by front-line teams.

Goal Atlas - 'H' Model showing Strategy Mapping

Step 2: Strategy adoption requires the handful of core strategic goals to be elaborated. You do this by asking the question ‘How are we going to achieve each of these core goals? What methods will we use?’ These are strategy mapping questions and can be tackled using why-how logic (for more details see Strategy Mapping).

Goal Atlas - 'H' Model showing Strategic Context and Frontline Context

Step 3: The best answers to how and why each core strategic goal will be achieved will come from the combined efforts of both senior leadership, who can provide strategic context on why these particular core goals were selected, and front-line teams who can provide practical frontline context on the best methods to achieve them. Strategic context includes defining precisely what each strategic goal means and why it is considered essential. Frontline context includes highlighting what, of all the activities that are already being done, could contribute to this core goal, and, of any new activities proposed to achieve this goal, what has been tried before. A template (above) can be used to facilitate this mapping process, completed for each of the core strategic goals.

This combined approach of ensuring that both senior leadership and frontline teams contribute to the exploration of how strategic goals will be achieved can be accomplished through ‘strategy adoption conversations’.

Goal Atlas - Strategy Adoption Conversations

Rules for Strategy Adoption Conversations

In some organisations, adoption conversations may occur naturally and comfortably. Such organisations will be characterised by having little social distance between leadership and front-line teams and having regular in-depth conversations. For many organisations, however, adoption conversations will come less naturally. Here are the rules, suggested by Ed Morrison and colleagues in their book Strategic Doing, for any conversations about strategy:

  1. Have rules for these conversations and make them explicit. Whilst it is all too easy to assume that implicit rules are shared, they may not be. Introducing a rule after it has been broken is tantamount to reprimanding the rule-breaker. Better to introduce them up front. This also makes everyone more aware of the rules and hence more likely to comply with them, for example rules on confidentiality, timings, use of everyday language or when it is okay to interrupt.
  2. Be clear from the start about intentions, purpose and outcomes. When setting up strategy adoption conversations, state your intentions (e.g. “I am responsible for ensuring our new strategy is effectively adopted across the organisation and would like to discuss with you how you and your team can contribute, and what ideas you have about ensuring the strategy’s success.”). Be clear also about the specific purpose of each meeting and what outcomes you seek. Seek feedback from other participants on your proposed intentions, purpose and outcomes.
  3. Make time for the conversation. Both the quantity and the quality of the time are important. It is hard to judge how much time it will take to resolve an issue. One solution is to set aside a generous amount of time for an initial meeting and then arrange subsequent meetings to complete the conversation, if necessary. That time should be uninterrupted. Interruptions disrupt conversations for far longer than the interruption itself lasts. Conversational flow is broken, attention is distracted, and ideas may be lost.
  4. Group size. Having a diversity of experience, ideas and opinions can enrich the conversation, but having too many people involved makes it harder for each to be properly heard. Also, the bigger the group, the more some people will feel inhibited to contribute. Research cited in the Strategic Doing book suggests around five to seven people is the ideal group size.
  5. Psychological safety. How confident people feel about taking risks, admitting vulnerabilities and speaking up to higher authorities is part of organisational culture and cannot be switched off and on for individual meetings. Nevertheless, adoption conversations should be explicit about their commitment to psychological safety, and should reassure participants that:
    their voice will be heard – one way to achieve this is to be clear that the conversation will respect ‘equity of voice’ – everyone will be expected to talk for a similar amount of time;
    their knowledge and experience will be respected;
    their contribution will be valued;
    it is their ideas that will be judged, not them as individuals;
    all criticism will be constructive.
  6. Conversational leadership. Good, productive conversation needs to be guided and facilitated. If the conversation drifts towards irrelevancies, it needs to be nudged back on course. If it delves too deep, it needs to be brought back from the detail. If it becomes too abstract, it needs to be grounded. And, of course, the rules need to be adhered to. All without dominating the conversation, shutting any individual down or compromising psychological safety. For some, conversational skills and conversational leadership skills may need to be developed before adoption conversations begin.

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