Engagement in Strategy – Image from Midjourney

Distillations in this newsletter: Engagement in strategy; Vector theory of change; Differing views on strategic innovation.


A monthly concoction of insight, learning and things you might have missed for anyone who works on strategy, works with strategy or just loves strategy.

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This month …

  • Engagement: A missing ingredient in too many strategies
  • Strategy snippets you might have missed: Vector theory of change by Dave Snowden; Differing views on strategic innovation.

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Engagement: A missing ingredient in too many strategies

If strategy could be achieved by the efforts of the CEO alone, there would never be any need for a strategy document. A personal to-do-list would work just as well.

So, securing engagement from others across the organisation is essential for strategy to be successful. This article will set out the case for engagement in strategy, and in doing so will define the main ways engagement needs to be undertaken at different stages of the strategy lifecycle.

The essence of strategy is to define what future success we, as an organisation, aspire to and how the efforts of many across the organisation ought to be aligned and focused to bring about that success. The purpose of engaging people across the organisation to get them to think about strategy is to secure their commitment to the actions that will bring about strategic success.

Let’s start at the end – our strategy has just reached its end date. Ideally, we can look back with a warm glow of satisfaction, confident that our strategy has:

  1. energised enough people across the organisation to work together to bring about the transformational change specified by the strategy;
  2. met the indicators of strategic success specified in the strategy.

That’s how strategy is meant to work!

To get there, we need to get ‘enough people’ across the organisation to engage with the strategy throughout its lifespan (see Fig. 1 showing the strategy lifecycle). For many strategies in many organisations, ‘enough people’ means most people across the entire organisation (see my Strategy Distilled newsletter from February this year on ‘strategy is for everyone’). Other strategies are narrow and focused only on a particular function within the organisation (e.g. a marketing and sales strategy), in which case only the people delivering that function might need to be engaged in thinking about, and committing to, the strategy (although this is still likely to be in pursuit the success of an overarching organisational strategy).


Figure 1 The Strategy Lifecycle

The peak level of engagement we seek needs to be sustained across most of the lifespan of the strategy. Here are some of the key requirements:

  1. On-going, practical, front-of-mind, awareness of the goals set out in the strategy;
  2. An active plan for how ‘my work’ needs to contribute to these strategic goals;
  3. An in-depth operational understanding of how my ways of working will align with the ways of working of my team-mates and colleagues to deliver defined strategic outcomes by agreed dates;
  4. On-going vigilance and measurement to detect changes in our operating environment that require strategic plans to adapt;
  5. Effective governance of strategy to:
    • drive strategic change;
    • remove blockers to strategic change;
    • adapt strategic plans to address issues and challenges that arise throughout the duration of the strategy sufficiently for them to be resolved.

To this end, there are purposeful actions that can be taken over the development of strategy to help ramp up engagement to reach this peak level of engagement in the first place:

  1. Start by sharing a statement of ‘strategy scope’ (see my Strategy Distilled newsletter from February 2023 on ‘the case for strategy scoping’). A statement of the scope of a strategy can outline, for example:
    • Why we need a new strategy;
    • The things this strategy must change;
    • Any reasons why this strategy needs to have a particular duration;
    • How the new strategy will be developed;
    • The opportunities that will be provided to comment on / contribute to the new strategy.
  2. For those charged with developing the strategy, it is important that they:
    • Share their ideas on strategy as the strategy develops;
    • Seek input on what’s missing;
    • Seek feedback on which strategy ideas are supported / endorsed and which are challenged / disagreed with;
    • Ensure that those engaged with feel ‘heard’ and show how their views have been impactful.
  3. As strategic plans are developed and strategic goals are delegated across the organisation, everyone delegating goals must take the time to have meaningful strategy adoption conversations (download a pdf on ‘rules for strategy adoption conversations’). Good delegation strikes the right balance between executive focus (this is what we want to change and why) and front-line ownership (here is what we know about what works now and here is what we feel is the best approach to making the required changes). The act of delegating a strategic goal secures a two-way commitment: a front-line commitment to act in pursuit of agreed targets and deadlines and an executive commitment to resource the work needed and to facilitate any necessary support from other parts of the organisation.

From all this, it may be useful to think of the process of developing engagement in strategy as follows (See Fig. 2).

Figure 2. The development of strategy engagement over the strategy lifecycle

Engagement with strategy ramps up throughout strategy production. This is achieved by means of good communication about the emerging strategy plus opportunities for people across the organisation to comment upon and influence strategy development.

Then engagement ramps up more steeply as strategy adoption conversations drill down into the details of strategic plans. As the goals within strategic plans are delegated, engagement turns into commitment.

Finally, for the rest of the strategy lifespan (as the strategic plans are adapted in response to changing circumstances) engagement and commitment needs to be maintained at peak levels. This is led by visible, tangible, on-going commitment to the strategy by senior leaders and is sustained by good participative governance of strategy (see ‘Strategy governance from the boardroom to front-line teams‘ in Strategy Distilled from April 2022).


Strategy snippets you might have missed

Vector theory of change by Dave Snowden
“The Vector Theory of Change encourages taking small, safe-to-fail steps in the desired direction, continuously sensing and responding to emerging challenges and opportunities. It empowers decision-making at various levels of the organisation, closer to where the expertise and knowledge reside. This approach allows for co-evolution, where all stakeholders engage in shaping the direction of change collectively.” Quote from a review of Snowden’s work by David Gurteen.

Differing views on strategic innovation
If strategic innovation is your thing, two authors caught my eye this month. Neil Perkin wrote an interesting article called On Xerox Parc, and the failure of execution. Neil explains how, if managed differently, Xerox, through its amazingly inventive research at Xerox Parc, could have owned the entire computer industry through the 1990’s. By contrast, Eric Gilliam has written three excellent articles on contractors to the US Miltary’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) who produced some of the most remarkable innovations of the 20th century. Start with this one on ARPAnet, the forerunner of the modern internet, then this one on the U-2 “spy plane” and finally this one on the development of autonomous vehicles.


Goal Atlas works with strategy leaders to secure engagement with strategy across their organisation. Get in touch if you think we might be able to help.


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