Developing good strategy doesn’t require a complicated process. There is no denying that developing good strategy is hard work, but, the reality is, the formula is simple: Diverse Perspective + Problem Identification + Problem Investigation = Good Strategy.
The genesis of all good strategy is applying diverse perspective to properly defining and systematically investigating the problem. All three components overlap and must be used; using any one or two components will result in an incomplete strategy, the wrong strategy or no strategy at all.
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Diversity is needed right from the start. In fact, diverse perspective can add value as you design the actual strategy development process; it opens the door to greater variation in approaches. Diverse perspective is imperative as you work to define the actual problem. And, diverse insight is invaluable as you investigate the problem for the purpose of surfacing strategic solutions.
Of course, fully leveraging diversity requires that the environment be inclusive. Simply engaging a diverse group doesn’t mean your strategy will benefit from the diverse make up of the group. In fact, all participants must feel comfortable, want to fully engage in the dialogue and share their insight for the group to take advantage of everyone’s thoughts, insights and innovative solutions.
Determining the “Right” Diversity
Considerable thought must be given to determining the optimal diversity for any particular strategy development team. The optimum diversity is often dependent on or guided by the type of strategy one is building – organizational strategy, issues management strategy or problem solving strategy.
First, it is important to understand that diversity must be thought of in the broadest of terms. Although people tend to consider aspects of race, ethnicity, orientation, sex, etc., one must stretch beyond these constraints in formulating the optimal diverse group. Other categories of diversity that must be considered include: generation (age), fields of expertise, supply chain position, industry sector, personality, relationship with your organization (former member, current member, potential member), and thought leader versus “rank and file.” The job becomes particularly challenging because the overall size of the group is often limited by logistics or the methodology that will be used. You must also take into consideration any political sensitivity(ies).
Diversity and inclusion should not be left to chance. Good strategy is dependent on constructing optimum diversity. And, the benefits of diversity are only realized if your organization and the facilitator manage for inclusion. I often work with international groups; so, one could argue that by chance alone the groups will always be diverse. In fact, I would argue that most all groups are diverse, as we all come from varied background and bring with us unique experiences. But good strategy is dependent on having optimum diversity and that doesn’t happen by chance.
When crafting good strategy, diversity must happen by design.
- Formulate an understanding of the process and methodologies that will be used to develop the strategy.
- Determine the maximum number of people that can participate in the process and at what touch points in the process engagement could occur.
- Determine the expertise that is critical to solving the issue at hand.
- Identify the different categories of stakeholders that could contribute to the strategic conversation.
- Identify specific individuals who meet the above expertise and category requirements. (I usually try to identify significantly more in each discipline / category than will ultimately be selected to participate. This provides for a more holistic consideration of possible participants and accommodates for some people being unwilling or unable to participate.)
- Collect background information on the potential participants to determine what additional qualities each participant might bring to the group and consider how their participation might impact the group dynamic.
- Prioritize your participants by expertise and category and interview your top selections to determine their interest and availability and to confirm their fit.
Case in Point
I was engaged by an international organization whose membership included nations from Africa, Europe, North America, Central America and South America to develop a strategy to create access to credit and risk management capability for small and medium-holder farmers. After conducting considerable qualitative research, we decided to narrow our problem to how to organize farmers into coops or other forms of organization.
We decided to use case study and force field analysis methodologies to formulate the strategy(ies). With onsite logistics being our only constraint and our goal to be as inclusive as possible, we settled on 120 total participants. This number also drove refinements to our think-tank design.
Due to the nature of the organization’s membership, scope of the organization and historical member participation, we could have simply invited the membership and accepted the first 120 people that expressed interest. If we went this route, we would have ended up with a diverse group. There would have been participants from five continents, people from trade ministries, agricultural departments, foreign affairs ministries and development agencies. We would have males and females, various races and ethnicities in the room and a spread of ages. But, we wouldn’t have optimal diversity.
Due to the nature of the organization, we had to be sensitive to ensure that we had appropriate representation and input from Asia, Africa and Latin America, Europe and North America. We also knew we needed experts in finance (from commercial banks and development banks), risk management, cooperative development, supply chain management, agricultural systems and economic development. Finally, we determined we needed representation from the following categories: public sector, private sector and non-governmental organizations.
We developed a matrix with each column (except for the first) representing one of our expert or category criteria. The first column was used to list the names of possible participants. We then identified a list of potential participants (106 of them) and inserted the names on the matrix with check mark designation what criteria they met. Ultimately, this matrix was used to develop a nucleus of 20 experts that were invited to participate along with about 100 representatives from the member governments.
Once our potential participants were identified and the matrix was developed, we prioritized participants in each category and contacted the top picks to learn more about them to determine fit with the expected group dynamic and to gauge their willingness and availability to participate.
Why Optimum Diversity Matters
It might be a lot quicker and easier to get a homogeneous group together and get them started on the work at hand, but more and more academic research is demonstrating the superior results are obtained with a diverse group, provided that inclusivity is given as much attention as diversity. Diversity of thought will benefit the creative thinking necessary to define the problem and facilitate the necessary step of defining a problem from many perspectives, as the problem is refined prior to being investigated and analyzed. Diversity of insight will be invaluable as the problem is analyzed and strategies are surfaced.
What challenges have you faced when seeking optimal diversity?