Good leadership means involving many people in building a strategy — but how?

It’s an increasingly popular idea in the leadership field that good leaders involve many people in the strategic planning process. But how?

Recently, the head of a leading university with whom Wow!Labs has been working for years came to us with a problem: “I need to build a new strategy for the next 5 years. I want to be sure that it reflects the needs of our students, faculty, staff and of our long-standing partners. How can I make sure to involve all these people in practice in building the new strategy?” 

We knew the context the organization was dealing with: there were students challenging the leadership on new conversations such as gender, climate change and inclusion. Faculty was disoriented by the new importance of digital interactions and tools. There was increased pressure for the institution to stay at the top of its league amidst an increasingly competitive educational global environment. 

Involving these people in where to go next was not a luxury – it was the only way for leadership to make sure the organization kept its long-standing role as top of its league.

This was not the first challenge of this type for Wow!Labs. It’s one of our specialties to build responses that make sure the needs of leadership and groups of people are answered in new forms of interaction, partnership or common project that builds value for both.

And in these unique times where there is pressure on leaders in all sectors to include many voices in building their strategy, we want to share our tips on how to make it happen. 

The outcome for this precise university was a strategy co-built with 250 people weighing in on 13 crucial issues, including sensitive ones, over a year. Events ranged from large-scale online co-design workshops each gathering over 80 people representative of the different voices within the organization, to intimate meetings with leadership to readjust to what had emerged. The outcome was all the more successful that leadership went on this journey in the midst of the pandemic, where elements of VUCA (Volatility – Uncertainty – Complexity – Ambiguity) felt very real for everyone.

Throughout the next 2 months, we will be sharing the principles that we applied to make this process a success.

Bring in the Big shots

When involving many people in a strategic planning process, it is essential that the big shots show up as the head of the organization.

Balance Out Power

When you convene many people to co-build a strategic planning process, power balance is of paramount importance.

Make Outcomes Visible

Success in a strategic planning process relies on holding many sessions with many people and making outcomes visible for everyone.

Create Spaces With Care

To involve people in a strategic planning process means is to create spaces to express their views on the key topics facing the organization.

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