Shift the strategic-leadership role of the top executives team from ‘all-knowing decision-makers’ to ‘social architects’.
The starting point is an honest assessment of the readiness of the organisation to open up which then leads to determining the best way to stimulate engagement. Once the process for interacting with employees is set-up, leaders have to constantly fine-tune it while continuously reaffirm the open culture and the vital importance of the contribution of their employees. As part of this, they need to demonstrate some vulnerability to match the exposure that their employees might feel when expressing themselves openly. This approach requires a more direct, personal, and empathetic exchange with employees than traditional town hall meeting allows. Red Hat experience shows that making this shift does not imply an abdication of strategic leadership. Its CEO and other top executives still have the responsibility to step in if things go awry and to make the difficult trade-offs that are the essence of good strategy.
Build a culture of openness, transparency, collaboration and peer review.
The best way to increase the quality of insights is through variety. To participate to a more open strategy development, employees from across the company need to believe that the environment they work in is capable of metabolizing their diversity of opinions. Red Hat’s wanted to be more systematic about how they analysed the market, customers and prospects as an input into their strategy. They initiated an idea generation process (that would ultimately last five months) and created a cross-functional ‘engagement team’ charged with inventing ever-new ways to maintain transparency and expand the conversation. Those included the use wikis, blogs as well as company-wide online chats with the CEO who could be asked any question about the strategy process (or about anything else). In parallel, the strategy team posted status updates to the wiki and replied to comments on their team’s internal blog. This openness and access to variety of ideas enabled the thinking to evolve as part of the process. For instance, one of the conversations started about the need for a defensive differentiation strategy that would halt competitors’ progress. However, as ideas were shared and discussed openly, it became clear that creating more value for customers through the products and services would yield more compelling results.
Involve employees throughout the process strategic planning – from idea generation to the execution.
The best ideas from Red Hat’s idea generation phase coalesced into 9 strategic priorities, each with their devoted ‘exploration’ team sponsored by a member of the executive team such as the CIO or VP of Operations for instance. To execute more efficiently on the opportunities, the company headed up each team with leaders one level or two removed from the senior leadership team. Those, in turn, tapped the people with the most knowledge and the most interesting ideas to take charge of actually developing the strategy and the actionable plans in each area. In most strategic planning projects, these teams would be asked to present the strategies and plans they had built back to the leadership team to make decisions. But at Red Hat, the accountability and responsibility was left in the hands of the people who knew the most i.e. those who were doing the work. They were trusted to execute the plans without further approvals.
Create an open approach to communication and engagement.
To keep a large number of people communicating, informed and involved at all levels in the company, Red Hat set-up a specific cross-functional team that included representatives from the human resources, branding, internal communication and information technology teams. Regular updates on progress and deep dives on strategy became a part of most company’s manager meeting. This kept the momentum behind the strategy strong and ensured that Red Hat stayed focused on executing it. In addition, strategy became a continuous process – updated and evaluated on an ongoing basis instead of once year on a fixed calendar. Initiative leaders communicated via town hall-style meetings, internet chat sessions, and frequent blog posts. Evolving funding needs of the initiatives were directly fed into the company’s annual budget process. The pillar of the communication about the strategy process was an iconic diagram that worked like a “You Are Here” map. It would show people where any discussion might fit into the overall strategy to ensure that everyone understood how his or her work fit into a larger vision.