Behaviour, relationships and politics within OpenStrategies

A reviewer of my book Validating Strategies recently commented that the book“… ends up with an “under-socialised” view of the world, i.e. not taking into account behaviour, relationships or politics. “

I found this perspective interesting because I always thought that our approach did take into account ‘behaviour, relationships and politics’, but maybe this didn’t come through clearly enough in my book.  This set me thinking and led me to come up with the following responses.  I welcome feedback.

Under-socialised:

Our approach is more socialised than traditional top-down strategy processes because our process of strategy development itself is socialised, hence OpenStrategy.  Traditional strategies tend to create strategies for stakeholders and then socialise them.  In contrast, our approach creates strategies with and by stakeholders, so in our approach the socialising starts right at the beginning of the process.  Consequently, very little socialising of our strategies is required after the strategies have been developed because stakeholders have already bought-in to the strategy as it was being developed.  It’s their strategy rather than someone else’s strategy that needs to be socialised to/at them.  When people feel they have been genuinely involved in the development of a strategy they are more inclined to buy-in to the strategy even if it doesn’t exactly meet their needs. 

Socialising during the strategy process minimises the need for socialising at the end of the strategy process.

Also, OpenStrategies was designed to create strategies that all stakeholders could relate to, hence our unremitting insistence on simplicity, resulting in PRUB.  SubStrategies based on PRUB and each limited to 15 +/- 5 boxes are readily understood (and hence easily socialised) by almost all stakeholders. 

Behaviours:

We address behaviour within the strategy development process itself, not post-strategy-process.  We insist on fully understanding Uses (actions and behaviours) and collecting compelling Evidence that these Uses/behaviours will actually happen.  If the behaviours/Uses won’t happen automatically, then additional Projects and Results are required to encourage them to happen (eg training projects; marketing projects; regulations.  These could be considered as ‘socialisation Projects’).  Behaviours are similarly inherent within Projects, especially in Projects which are Adopting Orphan Results (behaviour question: “will the Project manager really Adopt the Orphan Result?”)

So our approach explicitly incorporates ‘actions/behaviours’ within a continuous PRUB sequence where the links must be justified by cause-and-effect Evidence that the desired Use-behaviours will actually happen (or can be encouraged to happen).

Relationships and politics:

This topic is really interesting.  We’ve discovered, somewhat unexpectedly yet compellingly, that once the relationships between actions and consequences (rather than the relationships between people and organisations) are transparently clear to everyone in an OpenStrategy then the relationships between people follow the relationships between actions and consequences.  So it’s important to first define actions and consequences (PRUB/SubStrategies) before allowing politics to enter the process.  This is contrary to many strategy processes.

When we facilitate strategy workshops we strongly discourage participants from saying which organisation they represent because as soon as they do that, historical relationships kill creative strategic thinking.  We encourage people to focus first on strategic thinking to create Validated SubStrategies, and only when the SubStrategies have been created do we look at who might implement them.  This often creates some real surprises as organisations and individuals volunteer to drive some of the SubStrategies which might historically have been ‘claimed’ as being the responsibility of other stakeholders. 

Some people (dare I say it, mostly white middle class males in suits) find this approach really challenging because they want to tell everyone that they are in charge, whereas almost all other stakeholders absolutely love this open approach to the creation of the strategy.  The power-hungry ones can still have their moment in charge when they decide whether or not to implement all or some of the SubStrategies. 

So there are distinctly different politics in the strategy-creation phase and the strategy implementation phase and it is essential to keep the strategy-implementation-politics out of the strategy-creation phase.  It works over and over again, just as Linux works, often to the dismay of traditional top-down Microsoft-type thinkers.  OpenStrategies is to strategy what Linux is to Microsoft.  OpenStrategies is an ‘inherently socialised bottom-up-meets-top-down’ process whereas traditional strategy developments tend to be primarily ‘top down and then subsequently socialise it’ processes (that’s a simplification used to make my point). 

A Validated OpenStrategy has a very high chance of working if the politics etc allow it to be implemented.  The decision to implement an OpenStrategy is outside the OpenStrategy.  A Validated OpenStrategy describes what will definitely work and that it is worth it but that doesn’t automatically mean that the politicians and others will implement it.  In our experience, a well Validated OpenStrategy is pretty compelling, so it has a higher chance of actually being implemented than many poorly structured and worded strategies, but at the end of the day, it’s still up to the politicians and funders to actually implement a strategy.

But….  if an apparently Validated OpenStrategy isn’t being implemented then it isn’t actually Validated!  If the politicians and others don’t implement it then it has failed the ‘Evidence’ test.  So at this point the OpenStrategy needs to be re-Validated based on real Evidence and that includes real cause-and-effect Evidence about the politics.

System dynamics:

OpenStrategies is different from traditional ‘system dynamics’ which IMHO seem to try to connect everything-with-everything in complicated strategy maps.  In doing so they alienate many stakeholders because the resulting strategy maps are too complicated for most people’s cognitive capabilities (7 +/- 2 ideas mentally: 15 +/- 5 ideas graphically).   Such maps aren’t easily ‘socialised’ and few of them consist of implementable strategies and SubStrategies.  I see Kaplan and Norton’s book ‘Strategy Maps’ as fitting into this category – great for experts but challenging for most people.  In contrast, most people readily ‘get it’ with PRUB (which converts real-world complexity into graphically-presented simple SubStrategies) so it is easier to socialise and implement.

Overall: 

A Validated Strategy DOES explicitly take into account the politics, relationships and behaviours by doing this inherently within the strategy development process, rather than as a post-strategy-process activity. 

 

 

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