9 principles that Machiavelli had not seen coming…
Today, deliberation before the decision has become an essential part of the strategy, even though employees do not necessarily expect co-decision. It is almost 2020, and indeed the Prince of Machiavelli’s model is beginning to fail… 500 years later. The new expectation is the co-construction of an increasingly uncertain future. 90% of employees actually believe that they should be consulted in the development of their company’s project, in its strategy, 77% of business leaders have the same opinion (BVA-bluenove study, December 2018). We can talk about effectiveness in strategy and transformation. Being a leader today means being a collective leader. It means consulting all its employees in the development of its strategic choices and accelerating their implementation, even when there are 150,000 of them.
From a commitment point of view, we can also say that the CEO now has a different perspective on his or her strategy. What options are received by its employees? What is the diversity of their expectations, which ones are priorities and why? Will the strategy to be built respond to them or disrupt them? How will this work once you start implementation? Beyond maximizing employee engagement, consulting them will generate a wealth of content and insights through the input of the company’s strategic project. Producing those insights requires a debate on strategic options or the scope of possibilities for the future. In short, you are not going to mobilize with a questionnaire or a post-it competition, but with a well-argued and open debate on what could make the future of your company, its market, and its activities. Debate your first copy if there is one, debate the elements of vision if you start from the blank sheet of paper.
For example, SNCF, EDF, Engie and Société Générale Africa have already chosen this co-construction approach to develop their strategic plan. They thus gain months or years of transformation since by definition, the strategic direction and methodology are implemented before they are even published. Thus, SNCF has chosen this semester to carry out an open COMEX on its business project: 6 weeks of online debate and two days of face-to-face workshops throughout France have enabled all employees to express themselves online or orally. A company project that is therefore intended to be based natively on employees’ expectations and debated to define the implementation methods, particularly on the human aspect.
All these companies have implemented 9 principles of construction and commitment, thus allowing the marriage of substance, intelligence, and mobilization, of the collective.
The principles of building a business project
It is a matter of generating a maximum of intelligence from the mobilization of a large number of contributors, making it possible to justify the enrichment of a project as strategic as a business project.
Step 1 of a business project: discuss topics of substance and future
Be demanding with your employees on the substance, they will know how to be worthy of it. Mobilizing your employees to engage them will have even more impact if they are called upon to express themselves on strategic issues. Make some of your decisions debatable by launching the debate on your guidelines for the future and order the unexpected. Invite your employees to express themselves within these areas, but also outside.
For SNCF, this takes the form of an “open theme”, in which employees were able to express themselves on subjects outside the planned commitments, but also on free questions within each of the predefined commitments. Open the door to a substantial debate on what is desirable or not for the future of the company and its social body. This will allow everyone to take ownership of and contribute to the company’s major development challenges. The richness of reasoning with several thousand participants generates priorities and solutions that are seen as effective and acceptable by the crowd. The subjects on which to mobilize must be made debatable and understandable for your employees, and of direct concern to them for the future. The future of businesses, organization, performance, market or society, but also the impact of strong trends such as AI, resource scarcity, aging or communitarianism are, therefore “the right” subjects to mobilize. They have a high impact and open up the collective imagination. Dare also to ask your employees about the first version of your business plan: are your commitments the right priorities? How to enrich them? How can we make them possible, concrete from now on and in 5 years’ time? What are the prerequisites for achieving them?
Step 2 of a business project: invite your employees to express themselves in an innovative way
Among the modes of expression generating collective intelligence, you will, of course, find open questions ( the legacy of qualitative studies) and voting or like/dislike (the legacy of quantitative and social networks), but also the forum that invites arguments and counter-arguments, the “I did not understand” or “More info please” in addition to the “Agree / Disagree”, multi-criteria evaluation, predictive betting and… expression as dream stories. Employees, but also citizens, mobilized on the 2018 consultations by writing stories have proved incredibly successful. Inspired by design fiction, this mode of expression makes it possible to pass in one click from the left brain to the right brain. Asking an employee to tell us how he will live in 2030 in daily life in the form of a short story opens up a new creative universe. The only constraint of these little stories is utopia rather than catastrophism. This gives you the keys to write the foundations of the dream story of your company’s future. After all, isn’t a powerful Business Project based on a collective utopia?
Step 3 of a business project: analyze all messages
Massive mobilization, substantive topics, and diverse expressions will generate a rich flow of information and data. Have each message read and analyzed with a core requirement: ask your employees to truly build their own vision of commitments and concrete actions to take into account. The insights that this will generate will enable you, through the number of contributions, the diversity of populations and the forms of participation, to feed all the themes on which the opinion of the large number has value: From 1 to 15 years ahead, locally and at group level, by activities and across the board. Revealing wealth will consist of classifying and analyzing these contents in order to reveal the expectations and solutions that the crowd will have expressed. Cultural diagnosis, social barometer, prioritization of expectations, list of actionable solutions, expected roadmap and in-depth projects to be launched: here is what you will be able to formalize after 1 to 2 months of online consultation and some face-to-face acceleration workshops. Reading and analyzing each piece of message through algorithms and humans will allow you to generate intermediate summaries, both on the background of the words and on the feelings expressed by the participants. These summaries will allow you to relaunch the collective on the areas to be dug and see as you go along the axes get enriched and the possible solutions emerge. You will finally be able to list the high expectations that generate many concrete solutions, the low expectations, the so-called polemics or major pain-points, the solutions that legitimize or accelerate existing initiatives, the really new solutions, the solutions at group level and at the business level.
Step 4 of a business project: prioritize and stage your decisions
Your employees will have been able to bring out, beyond their expectations, action plans and building levers for the company’s future. Their main expectation is related to the implementation of the change and improvements they have reported, but they are willing to wait 2 years before seeing the results. In the meantime, they are waiting to experience the path to change: could I have participated with freedom of speech? Have I discovered the richness of the collective and diversity? How will the proposals be presented to the Executive Committee? Will they read them all, how will they prioritize them? Will the results and monitoring of the next steps be transparent? Maximize commitment and acceptability by sharing what you have learned from this consultation with employees. Distribute the same summary like the one you have prepared for the Executive Committee and draw up substantive summary reports in the form of summaries accessible to all, every 6 weeks if the consultation lasts more than one quarter. This path to change is also as much an educational exercise on the governance of your company and the commitment of its managers as it is an exercise in commitment for employees in the implementation of the Business Project. It is the CEO who will be the cornerstone for collective intelligence to be an obvious part of this process, becoming a model of leadership
Principles of engagement
We are talking about the company’s internal commitment, managerial, community and direct mobilization in the strategic dynamic. We also talk about the commitment of external stakeholders in the company’s future strategy.
Post your promise
Make it clear from the outset that each contribution to the company project will be read and studied, at the very least that an exceptional Executive Committee will be organized to enrich the business project in the light of the employees’ proposals and expectations, that the final and enriched project will be published 6 months later with a faithful traceability of the improvements made by the employees. The ultimate promise for an employee is to be heard and to have an impact on the future of his company, so mobilize on this noble field by displaying the impact you expect from this mobilization. It must initiate or accelerate this much-needed collective future
Perhaps you are preparing, by launching this deliberative process, to address and listen to all your employees for the first time. They will talk to you in their words, challenge you. Initiate the conversation by clarifying the framework of the consultation. Use simple words and formats to give your collaborators a voice, publish from the outset a consultation charter that is short, impactful and readable by all. Mobilize an internal network of volunteer and trained dialogue leaders to facilitate the local consultation. Choose a platform with open, opposable, qualitative, and traceable features. Name a project team that will ensure the analysis and integration of each contribution into the summary that will be produced. Develop a speak-up culture by providing a methodology that includes time for debate and even purging. Make the most of volunteering. Be balanced in managerial, direct and community mobilization. Choose a project team whose way of being is motivated, free to speak, constructive and respectful of democratic values to be representative of the culture you want to create
Return the wealth of the collective to the collective
Be aware that each participant will put themselves at risk when they share their ideas with you. Risk towards his hierarchy and peers, by taking time out of his professional or even personal agenda. Sharing the wealth and value of the collective intelligence produced is the way your employees will follow you. They will be all the more convinced of the value of having participated, of the power of what will have emerged, and of the insights and consideration of this intelligence in the strategy. Restitution is the ultimate exercise in sharing the collective value resulting from consultation. It can be considered successful if it naturally feeds into global and local action, the application by business line, making possible to mobilize the company’s ecosystem and satisfies the participant in his expectation of recognition and confidence for the future. Provide the intermediate material, as the consultation evolves: proposals, expectations, points of debate, trends. Trace the enrichment provided by your employees in the final copy of the Business Project. The restitution is not necessarily a face-to-face event, it is the sharing of a document, a specific communication on major progress resulting from collective mobilization. It is the transmission of content by all Group Directors with a request for further development or concretization, a round table 4.0 broadcast live on the company’s social network, a live chat with the General Management, open decision-making or enrichment body, a 500-way exchange on the development or implementation of topics.
Announce at the outset of the consultation the extent of the decisions that will be made and be an educator on the decisions you will and will not make. Make your decisions known and communicate widely on their impacts: film and broadcast your COMEX live as EDF did or the COMEX members’ conclusions on the spot as SNCF did. Also announce with enthusiasm the unexpected decisions you will have made as a result of what will have emerged from the collective expression… unpredictability of collective intelligence is essential.
Give the project participants an experience
A path to change, an exercise that reflects the desired culture for the company. A face-to-face and digital journey, over a few weeks or months, that delivers results that exceed the individual expectations of each of the contributors and sponsors. That is what a successful consultation is all about. This path must reveal talents and bring to life the working methods desired for tomorrow for your employees… and for yourself.
Machiavelli was good, but the Millenials understood it, tomorrow it’s US!