Traditionally, the task of defining an organization’s mission, vision and values has been left to managers or senior executives. Unfortunately, this approach very often leads to a lack of understanding and buy-in from front-line individuals and teams, or a total disconnect from their day-to-day operational reality.
However, we’re observing that clients are increasingly willing to address this issue by involving middle-managers and employees in this key process.
That’s the approach we recently recommended to an organization that was created after different structures were merged.
A Rich, Cohesive and Empowering Approach
This approach proved beneficial on many fronts. First, employees always contribute very rich content, as each participant is encouraged to express his or her point of view and perspective with regard to the company. As a result, more ideas are exchanged and debated, which means that the mission, vision and values more accurately reflect the company’s DNA and the employees that work there.
Secondly, workshops and activities can have a real impact on team cohesion and engagement, especially in the case of a merger or reorganization. This approach gives employees from different divisions an opportunity to get together to discuss relevant issues and move the organization forward, towards a common goal.
Lastly, getting employees involved also means getting them engaged. If they contribute to formulating the company’s purpose, they’ll feel more accountable, and they’ll also feel like their voices are actually being heard by their managers or management committee.
Getting It Right: A Few Keys to Success
- Strive for Diversity and Unity
Try to propose different ways of getting involved, in teams of different sizes. Some employees might prefer sharing their thoughts in small groups, while others would rather do it in larger venues. Also, try to offer a wide selection of timeslots to maximize participation.
For example, we proposed an alternative to traditional meetings called “World Cafés”, as well as discussion groups, one-on-one interviews and presentations to certain audiences. Here is the approach we used, including the activities we offered:
- Get Managers Involved
What if the workshops were led by management committee members? That’s the gamble we made – and it paid off. Employees couldn’t help but feel that their voices were being heard when managers stepped in as leaders or facilitators. Of course, this requires a little training beforehand, as well as total buy-in from managers. This type of approach can only work if the management committee and Board of Directors are convinced that it’s beneficial to them to get their employees involved in a participative process.
- Focus on Meaning
In this type of exercise, there’s always a danger of getting bogged down in semantics rather than concentrating on meaning. We all have our personal preferences when it comes to certain words. That’s why it’s important for the workshop leader to keep the conversation focused on meaning, rather than form. Once you’ve reached agreement in terms of meaning, you can always call upon a marketing or communications firm to bring the “wow factor” to your new vision and mission.
- Talk About the Process
When implementing a democratic process, it’s important to talk about it. You won’t necessarily be able to get every employee involved, especially in large companies. Still, that’s no reason not to have effective internal communications, which you can use to explain your participant selection criteria and leverage the buzz created by this mobilizing exercise.
So, do you have a strategic-thinking exercise coming up in the next few months? Have you considered getting employees and managers involved? And for those of you who have used a participative approach in the past, what best practices could you share in terms of engaging employees in strategic planning?
Dare to Be Different
If you want your approach to foster evolution, make sure to get as many people involved as possible, from every hierarchical level, in order to align with internal realities and get optimal buy-in. This will be crucial when the time comes to implement the changes that will result from your collective choices.
And don’t be afraid to be even more daring by getting your suppliers and partners involved. This can only enrich the conversation even further.
*This article was written by Astrid Coliche, in collaboration with Philippe Carpentier and Maude Laliberté.