Dr Simon Haslam on… Spending more time in the macro

03 November 2016 -


Its about immersing yourself in what is happening with your business and embracing change, rather than staying with the status quo

Dr Simon Haslam

Our client is an international business in the medical field. It’s not the biggest in the sector, but it is well regarded, and has aspirations to grow. It needed to make decisions about its three-year strategy. The CEO’s first call was to establish a decision-making process that would deliver breadth and depth of insight.

In addition to time with industry commentators, clients and thought leaders, it reached out to a diverse group of 200 of its 4,000 employees using WebEx discussions. Some 25 of its most senior leaders came together in a six-month process to reflect on and seek to make sense of the insights.

Organisations are becoming more aware that there are two types of strategic decision.

The first is ‘top down’ decisions, which tend to be made by senior people, often with legal responsibility for the organisation and the resources at their disposal to ‘change the game’.

The other is ‘middle out’ decisions. Senior leaders don’t have the bandwidth to make every call – and, when it comes to influencing strategy, the majority of decisions come from within the core of the organisation.

Sound strategy needs to embrace both kinds of decisions.

The first step towards better middle-out decision-making is for people to understand what the organisation is trying to do. That may sound obvious, but many organisations have a corporate strategy that doesn’t translate into language that people understand.

Organisations also need a culture of restlessness. Bill Gates suggested that success is a lousy teacher and can make organisations complacent. Leadership should nurture a culture that is open to considering new approaches.

For this client, the chief executive invited everyone from the board down to spend ‘more time in the macro’ and connect more strongly with how markets and ideas of interest were evolving.

This is not about research reports; it’s about immersion in things happening on the ground. Sometimes, an organisation’s core purpose dominates the decision-making process, so it becomes difficult to embrace something new, because it is not part of the current pattern of work.

To get out of that rut, staff need to experience different situations.

Read more: The 5 greatest examples of change management in business history

When people work cross-culturally and around different parts of the organisation, they experience different perspectives, and that enables more liberated thinking in the moment.

This approach, which involves more people having a deeper immersion in the flow of markets, doesn’t make the strategy process easier. But organisations that can harness this breadth of views in their decision-making have the opportunity for strategies beyond the ordinary.

Dr Simon Haslam is an ICMCI academic fellow, Institute of Directors programme lead for strategy and a fellow of the Institute of Consulting. He is co-author of an upcoming book with Dr Ben Shenoy on a ‘discovery-led approach to critical choices’, drawing on their experiences

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