Distillations in this newsletter: Justifying stakeholder consultation in strategy development; Just how JEDI are you?


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This month …

  • Justifying stakeholder consultation in strategy development
  • A strategy snippet you might have missed: Just how JEDI are you?

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Justifying stakeholder consultation in strategy development

What role does consultation play within strategy development? Is it an add-on? A nice-to-have? Or is it an essential part of strategy development? It seems to me that there is a move towards more stakeholder consultation, rather than less. It is, however, a significant undertaking if it is to be done well. Strategists, therefore, need to marshal strong justification if they are to get senior managers and budget-holders to commit to it. Here are three lines of evidence to use.

1. The ‘engagement’ argument. There is a great deal of common-sense logic to this argument. If strategy is to align and amplify actions across the organisation, towards some future goal, then surely getting employees engaged in discussing and shaping that future goal has got to make it easier for them to commit to it. A more empirical argument comes from Ulrich and Brockbank’s (2005) VOICE framework (described in this book chapter co-authored by Ulrich). By analysing the employee engagement surveys of several large consulting firms, they were able to identify several ways of achieving employee engagement that all these surveys pointed towards (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The VOICE framework (Storey, Ulrich, Welbourne and Wright, 2009)

Here are how the elements of the VOICE framework are described by Storey, Ulrich, Welbourne and Wright (lightly paraphrased by me from their original description) and, in bold, how stakeholder conversations about strategy can enhance employee engagement (added by me).

In order to achieve a strong sense of engagement, employees need to feel that their workplace provides them with the following seven elements:

  • Vision: Employees are engaged, heart-and-mind, by a clear sense of purpose and future aspiration. By participating in strategy development, employees are likely to feel a much stronger sense of ownership of the organisation’s purpose and future aspiration.
  • Opportunity: The work on offer provides a chance to grow both personally and professionally, through participation in the work unit’s activities. By understanding strategy, employees may see ways in which they could get involved in strategic change initiatives and contribute directly to strategic success.
  • Incentive: The compensation package is fair and equitable, including base salary, bonus, and other financial incentives. By understanding the benefits of strategy, employees will realise that strategic success will ultimately benefit everyone.
  • Impact: The work itself makes a difference or creates meaning, particularly as it connects the employee with a customer who uses the employee’s work. By participating in strategy development, employees will come to realise how their work supports the work of the organisation.
  • Community: The social environment includes being part of a team when appropriate, and working with co-workers who care. By understanding strategy, employees will realise how inter-connected strategic goals are and how strategic success depends on everyone pulling in the same direction.
  • Communication: The flow of information is two-way, so employees are in the know about what is going on. Strategy, too, requires two-way communication. Leadership makes clear where we are striving to get to. Front-line teams help shape the best ways to get there.
  • Experimentation: The organisation’s policies are flexible and designed to adapt to the needs of both the firm and the employee. A deep understanding of strategy will reveal that high-level strategic goals remain a consistent North Star guiding our decisions and actions and that our more detailed strategic plan needs to adapt to the circumstances of the moment.

2. The ‘diminished resistance’ argument. Unfortunately, we live in a world of increasingly polarised opinions. Politics has become more polarised in many countries (see e.g. Carothers & O’Donohue, 2019) and consumption of social media is known to polarise personal opinions (see e.g. Overgaard & Woolley, 2022). Strategy can act as a magnet for polarised opinions. Any proposal to make significant changes to established ways of working (which is what strategy is, almost by definition) will have supporters and detractors, some of whom are likely to be vehement in their views. One well-proven but not-widely-understood fact about such polarised opinions is that they are usually built upon a ‘knowledge illusion’. Here is one of the key experiments that demonstrated it. Asking a sample of Americans whether or not the USA should unilaterally impose sanctions against Iran, most people were found to have strongly held opinions on the subject. Some were strongly in favour, some were strongly against. However, when they were asked to explain how such sanctions would be decided upon, imposed and have impact, most participants realised they had a poor understanding of international sanctions. Then, having made that realisation, their strength of opinion on sanctions against Iran was substantially diminished – regardless of whether they were initially for or against them. This is one of many examples cited by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach in their 2017 book, The Knowledge Illusion. The clear implication from this is that the polarised opinions that may resist strategic change are likely to be a lot less polarised, and consequently a lot less resistant, if the nature of the proposed strategic changes were better understood and the justification for those changes more transparent.

3. The ‘better strategy’ argument. The final, and most positive argument in favour of stakeholder conversations during strategy development is simply that it will result in a better strategy. Again, a lovely experiment explains how this works. Part of a growing amount of research that uses Wikipedia as its source material, Shi et al (2019) (article, pdf) examined the political alignments of Wikipedia’s editors, firstly by looking at their contributions to conservative and liberal articles and then by confirming these findings through a survey that asked about their political views. The main point of the research was then the discovery that articles with a diversity of political views amongst their editors were of higher quality than articles edited by only conservative editors or only liberal editors. They called this effect the ‘wisdom of polarised crowds’ and said, “analysis of article ‘talk pages’ reveals that politically polarized teams engage in longer, more constructive, competitive, and substantively focused but linguistically diverse debates than political moderates”.

So, stakeholder consultation gets you out of the senior management echo-chamber. It gets you talking to a much greater diversity of people and opens your ears to more polarised opinions. These, of course, can be hard work. It would be much easier to write a Wikipedia article with your friends and confidents. But if you take the trouble to write it with your adversaries and critics, it will be a better article. And the same goes for your strategy.

Here, then, are three arguments you can use to justify the effort and time needed to do stakeholder consultations well:
1. You will engage the organisation more and make the individuals and teams with whom you engage much more ready to adopt the strategy once it is launched.
2. You will diminish resistance to the changes demanded by the strategy by reducing the polarisation of views about the strategy. The more familiar people are with the strategy the less their knowledge illusions are likely to set them against it.
3. By engaging with a wide diversity of stakeholders, the more robust your conversations about strategy are likely to be … and hence the better your strategy is likely to become.


A strategy snippet you might have missed

Just how JEDI are you?
The Ready (a future-of-work consultancy) argue that, “Through exploring and exercising new practices, structures, and ways of working, organizations can actually embed justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion — not only through words, but also through actions.” (Pooran, 2021). This JEDI framework is, they argue, needed “to combat and uproot long standing injustices and supremacist ideologies and practices” and “make small changes that shift a team’s approach to collaborating, deciding, meeting, and relating that meaningfully accumulate over time” (Brave New Work Newsletter, 2023). In order to turn JEDI principles into cornerstones of how your organisation works, The Ready suggests starting with organisational values and connecting what they say with how they work (I argued the same in Core Values and went on to show how it can be done). Then Pooran (2021) goes on to propose “four key principles we believe connect with and inform more human and equitable ways of working:

  1. Complexity Conscious: The belief that our organizations are complex systems we can neither control nor predict. It’s tempting to see our organizations as machines with replaceable parts. But our organizations are less like wristwatches or car engines and more like gardens.
  2. People Positive: The belief that people are naturally motivated, capable of self-direction, and worthy of trust and respect. This can act as an antidote to ways of working that prioritize micromanagement, productivity-tracking, and information-hoarding.
  3. Progress over perfection: The belief that work shouldn’t stop moving forward or be perpetually blocked just because it could be better or because one power holder doesn’t like it.
  4. Transparency: The belief that information should be made available and accessible to all members of a team or organization. Individuals and teams should “default-to-open” when sharing data, knowledge, and insights.”


Goal Atlas gives you structured processes and tools to ensure strategy is adopted and impactful across your organisation. Get in touch if you think we might be able to help.


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