Crowd-Sourcing Strategy: can it work?

Imagine if you could harness the considerable brain power that lies in your organisation (the 100% objective), combine high level strategic insights into where to play in the market with field-level insights into what works with customers, translate strategy into execution in a nano-second, change direction just as quickly and have everyone changing direction at the right time (depending on their customer and market position).

Sounds interesting, impossible perhaps, but is this what crowd-sourcing could do for your business?

Traditional hierarchies in companies are under considerable stress today. On one hand we still pay our CEO’s large amounts of money and they shoulder much of the burden for organisational performance. I do not begrudge them the money they earn because of the job they do but I question whether they feel obliged to shoulder more of the load than they should. On the other hand we boast flatter management hierarchies, we are eliminating middle management overhead and streamlining our organisations. We praise our front-line workers and recognise their efforts on a regular basis. However the gap between what top management wants to happen and what actually happens seems to grow (if we believe the evidence that appears in management and strategy journals around the world). So, could we do ithe job of strategy differently, perhaps even better.

I once had a boss who gathered his team of managers together, some 150 managers in a 3,500 person organisation, and gave an inspirational speech about the combined brain power in the room and the problems we could solve with this combined brain power. He truly believed in the maxim “two minds are better than one” and I think it would have been truly wonderful if he had managed to find a way to make it work.

I also participated in a company-wide jam session once. We called it Values Jam, and it was an inspiring event. There were thousands of people from all over the world sharing their thoughts and collaborating. It drove so much energy and vitality through a large international organisation. At the time I felt inspired and elevated by the debate, however I later became disenchanted with the task of realising those values through the course of a difficult and challenging merger.

We now have the technical tools to collaborate across international companies with ease – I can setup video conferences from my desk, invite anyone across the company, share documents, develop and test products globally, potentially sell to anyone, anywhere. We regularly use social media, both outside and inside the company. However, my observation is that most large organisations are beset by 19th century problems that stem from the large doses of scientific managementthat have dominated corporate thinking for the last 100 years. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it!

So here’s my argument:

If you can accept the argument that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, i.e. that what people in organisations do on a day-to-day basis IS the company culture and DOMINATES formal strategy, then you should agree that changing what people do, how they act, the values they bring to work is the core component of strategy execution. Hence an initiative that elicits input from a large global organisation on strategy, provides a mechanism to discuss and debate this, including the appropriate real-time feedback loops from bottom to top and back down from top to bottom of the organisation seems like a positive step in developing and executing a winning strategy.

Do you agree? What stops us from crowd-sourcing strategy? Is it our own insecurities, corporate hierarchy, “more than my jobs worth”-thinking? Can this approach work in modern companies?

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2 Comments

  1. As someone who participated in the Values Jam with Martin I agree that it enabled wide participation in the strategic discussion, the hard part was to convert the resulting expectations and energy into action. It will not matter how sophisticated the crowd-sourcing tools are, if the organisation’s underlying culture is change averse.

    To my mind executing the strategy IS the organisation’s work and, by implication, its culture; so it is unhelpful to think of strategy, culture and work as separate activities. A teacher of mine used to make a clear distinction between ‘work’ (ie the necessary but constant busy-ness to which we mostly contribute) and ‘Work’ (ie the creative, important stuff that makes a real difference to our’s and other’s lives).

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    1. Hi Al, fully agree. That’s why engagement is so important. I refer in the article to the “feedback loop” and I am currently thinking about how to expand on this concept but, in brief, it is the idea that I, as an individual, will be more inclined to change my behaviour if I believe that my ideas are part of the organisation direction.

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