In most corporations, strategy is almost always set at the top of the organization. It is in the domain of the CEO and the senior leadership team to determine, often in great lengths of detail, the choices that the organization will be making and how those choices will be executed.
The result of this careful planning work is often realized through comprehensive documents that detail out the direction, key projects and change initiatives. The strategy is communicated (or cascaded) down the ranks and ownership gets assigned to various units and the change efforts take hold.
In reality, this process follows an underlying management paradigm that is based on trying to predict and control. It assumes that a handful of people at the top of the pyramid are able to understand, predict and control where the business is going and place the right bets.
However, in times when change is a constant and complexity is at an all-time high, control becomes but a mere illusion. No single person or small group of executives holds all the answers that are needed to truly predict where a business is going.
Where things typically break down is when the strategy reaches the level where execution needs to happen. By the time the front lines receive the message, it has been filtered, sanitized and adapted by multiple layers of management. It lacks any sense of meaning and usually translates to a few “to-dos” that rarely tie into bigger puzzle that executives tried to build in the first place. Most employees will scramble to understand what it means to do them and when they don’t, they quickly come back to what’s worked for them in the past.
The paradigm of “predict and control” prompts us to look for the perfect answers while predicting the future. This may have been valuable in a complicated world, but is irrelevant in a complex world.
Is it time for organizations to start looking at strategy from the bottom up? Could strategy be crowd sourced by engaging those who may not have the senior titles, but work with complexity day-in-and-day-out? How might we better tap into the collective intelligence of an organization?