Clarity, cohesion and responsiveness are essential for survival in the contemporary business landscape. Developing these capabilities isn’t easy and companies need ways to enable strategies for innovating and evolving continuously. Multi-actor collaboration and short feedback cycles are enablers for continuous strategy development. I have been combining these enablers in a tool named Strategic Mobilisation Canvas. Increasing engagement and alignment are recurring benefits I have observed when using this canvas. My greatest aim with this text is to share a pattern of activities and concepts that worked well when facilitating and leading collaborative strategy sessions. I believe these patterns will be helpful for people on a similar journey.
A typical challenge
I often use this approach when companies seek to engage people and align strategic themes. Creating a shared understanding of investing organisational energy is one of the key ingredients for winning strategies. It is about effectively mobilising individuals, teams and communities for developing and deploying a contextualised strategy for corporate and business aspirations.
I apply this canvas to facilitate strategic conversations among executives, board members, directors and leaders. Sometimes, these people don’t need to create the entire strategy thinking from scratch. They only need some help to understand their intent, obstacles, strengths and choices to ignite effective strategic moves towards relevant outcomes. That is the focus of this tool.
The canvas has evolved as I have tried different formats, media and sections. Despite the tool’s form, some underlying principles emerged as patterns in sessions I have facilitated over the years. For this reason, let’s explore some of these principles and dig into the canvas details.
- Principle 1: Collective intelligence is the best antidote for tackling complex problems — Connecting different perspectives and experiences is the most effective way of better comprehending the full spectrum of challenges and opportunities in a highly-dynamic context. That is why the strategy process shouldn’t be done in isolation by only a few people at the very top of the company. The strategy process should be an open conversation and must engage a diverse set of people from multiple areas and levels of the company.
- Principle 2: Creating choices rather than a fixed plan — Strategy is a broad subject with multiple views, theories and techniques. Many leaders and executives wrongly associate the preparation of a plan with the proper process of strategising. In simple words, a plan, as a document, describes the step sequence to achieve something. However, strategy is much more than this. According to professor and author Roger Martin, “strategy is a set of interrelated and powerful choices that positions the organisation to win.” This concept acknowledges that there are elements we can’t control in business and an iterative process is required to validate and adapt the options as it evolves. For this reason, instead of relying only on a fixed action plan, organisations should be able to continuously iterate and adjust the strategy to maximise the winning chances.
- Principle 3: Divergent thinking is an enabler for creativity — Strategy is a continuous creative process for addressing business problems and opportunities. For this reason, having tools and models for facilitating this creative process is essential for developing good strategies. I have used divergent thinking as a platform for creativity during strategy sessions. It has been a helpful approach because it inspires people to create different and diverse ideas. People are also stimulated to diverge regarding each idea’s importance and implementation complexity. It’s an excellent way to nurture collaborative thinking and generate out-of-the-box ideas effectively during a session.
- Principle 4: Think in the long term but act and revise in the short term — Long-term visions and aspirations are essential for companies. However, leaders must be able to take concise actions to learn and refine the strategy continuously. The business landscape tends to be unpredictable, so companies should be able to organise short and narrowed initiatives to collect fast feedback regarding directions and needed adjustments. The Strategic Mobilisation Canvas fosters this approach by inviting people to prioritise feasible initiatives to fit into short work cycles (between one and three months).
- Principle 5: Strategy is a continuous and multidimensional process — Thinking about strategy as something done only by executives or as an activity done once a year is the greatest mistake a company can make. Strategy happens every day and everywhere in the company. Effective strategies amalgamate corporate aspirations, business capabilities and attitudes towards winning choices. For this reason, any strategy session is only a moment to use all the data, research, facts and insights available throughout the organisational tissue. We must do this homework before, during and after the sessions. That’s why the Strategic Mobilisation Canvas promotes a democratic space for ideating, diverging and converging the collective intelligence obtainable in a company.
These principles are the culmination of years of dealing with strategic conversations and decisions in different companies around the globe. They are not exclusive to the Strategic Mobilisation Canvas. Instead, those principles acknowledge some patterns underlying the most successful organisations I worked in during my professional life. Feel welcome to extend these principles to your context as needed.
A canvas for nurturing effective conversations around strategic themes
The Strategic Mobilisation Canvas (see image below) is a tool for engaging people and promoting a better conversation flow regarding strategic questions for an organisation. This canvas is typically applied for facilitating immersive sessions for mobilising people around the activities of:
- Analysing the current strategic scenario.
- Ideating options for building new capabilities and behaviours.
- Prioritising the most valuable initiatives for achieving results in a given theme.
The Strategic Mobilisation Canvas is organised into several critical sections. Let’s explore and dig deeper into these elements.
Strategy involves mobilising organisational tissue to address relevant corporate and business questions. Therefore, the first section in the canvas regards visualising the major subject the group will strategise about. Each canvas is oriented to only one theme. If necessary, the facilitator can set different breakout sessions according to the number of existing themes. In this case, the participants will use multiple canvases during the whole process. It is also relevant to note that creating strategies toward a particular key result is a typical example of a theme if your company is applying the Objective and Key Results (OKR) model.
Why is it important for the company?
This is perhaps one of the most impactful sections because it promotes alignment regarding the reasons for and intentions behind any particular theme. A clear sense of purpose can bind people together. In this section, the participants should agree on why addressing that question is valuable to the company.
Current obstacles and uncertainties
This section will invite the participants to analyse the current reality to identify the most significant obstacles and uncertainties. Understanding notable impediments and the things we can’t predict is vital to identifying contextualised options for minimising challenges or navigating uncertainty.
Every company has remarkable traits and capabilities for creating value and achieving results. Leaders should be aware of these characteristics as enablers for creating superior performance. In this section, participants will identify the most relevant strengths the company can employ for navigating a given theme. Sometimes, enhancing existing strengths is much more effective than trying to minimise weakness or develop new capabilities from scratch.
As stated in the second principle, companies must focus on creating choices rather than a fixed plan for identifying better options for navigating dynamic scenarios and achieving superior results. This section will promote a conversation space for collecting ideas and creating consensus on the collective perception of value and complexity for each discussed option. Perhaps, this section will require the most extended amount of time in the session as it will encourage a safe space for ideating, diverging, grouping and selecting the best choices for materialising strategic moves in the organisation.
Top 3 strategic moves
After the participants carefully analyse the options, this section aims to generate convergence about one or three initiatives the organisation will take per each strategic theme.
Probably you are asking yourself why there are so few initiatives. Generally speaking, each strategic move is a cross-area initiative that will mobilise multiple individuals and teams. For this reason, it is tough to have enough capacity to handle too many organisational actions at the same time. Acknowledging this fact is the key to avoiding the overloading of unfinished ideas across the company.
Another significant benefit I’ve been observing is that people are more diligent in selecting valuable initiatives when there is some limit regarding the number of moves the organisation can handle simultaneously. Prioritisation is the secret recipe for the best use of the existing resources and energy to develop strategic intentions.
The image below shows a short example of a use case of these sections.
Wrapping this up
Strategising should be a living and continuous element in organisations. However, traditional management approaches tend to foster the preparation of high-detailed strategies based on long-term plans described in large documents and created in isolation behind closed doors by executives on the top of the corporate food chain. These approaches are no longer suitable for highly dynamic scenarios as companies need more operational and strategic responsiveness. For this reason, the Strategic Mobilisation Canvas is only a single tool for creating a welcoming environment for engaging people in this journey.
I wish this canvas would be as helpful for you as it has been to me. Feel welcome to drop me a message regarding questions or feedback on this tool.