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A Participatory Approach to Designing and Delivering Organisational Strategy

13 December, 2022

Conversations are one of the most simple and most powerful human acts.

So, what does a conversation have to do with designing and delivering an organisation’s strategy?  

They’re both a mechanism of change and are critical to undertaking successful business. 

When it comes time to designing or redesigning an organisational strategy, it’s the conversations we have that will ensure the strategy is robust, relevant, and successfully implemented.

The Participatory Design approach asks: who should be involved, why, and how? The aim is to create alignment between your organisational goals and meaningful outcomes for your stakeholders and the people your organisation serves. It is also to involve your people in your strategy from the start so that they have clarity of purpose and role and meaningful commitment to bringing your strategy to life.  

Could the participatory approach optimise your next organisational strategy? Here’s what I know from years of planning, designing, and delivering strategies across industries and organisations.  

There is no crystal ball.

Developing strategy starts as an open-ended process with no pre-determined destination. As we engage in discussion to identify the key challenges and opportunities faced by the organisation and its stakeholders, we make decisions about what matters, the direction we want to go and the critical things we must change to head in that direction. Then we put into place a course of action.

However, being a successful strategist isn’t about demanding certainty as the basis of decision-making. It’s about your ability to gather insights that will hedge your bets of success (or even survival) at any given moment.  

Strategy is agile. We sometimes pretend that business is immune to the laws of nature. We forget that every moment is dynamic, and every decision we make is part of that dynamism. Our organisations constantly interplay with market forces influenced by a much broader context. This means that we must stay in tune with the changes in our environment to inform our strategic direction and its relevance. This is what we mean by being agile and it’s the key to surviving and thriving.  

The only way to engage the kind of dynamic strategic thinking we need today is by having conversations that make the most of our knowledge base – our people.

The journey of collaboration to ownership.

A participatory design approach to developing and delivering business strategy is not something new. And it’s definitely not complex. It’s simply making sure that you draw on your organisation’s greatest asset – your people – to help you understand what’s going on across your business and on the front line with your clients and other stakeholders.  

The people in our organisations – those who are working on projects and with clients and stakeholders day in and day out – know what the real challenges are and can help you identify the potential solutions; as well as the opportunities for improvement and strategic change. This approach often also invites your stakeholders to engage in these discussions to provide first-hand insights into the challenges and opportunities that will inform your strategy.  

In addition to providing a solid foundation, collaboration during the strategic planning stages creates ownership and buy-in and encourages advocacy and effective implementation through your organisation and networks of stakeholders.

Getting your people involved in developing strategy is as simple as having the right conversations. Using the right kinds of frameworks and tools to facilitate effective dialogue and discussion will help lift your strategic conversations beyond office politics and the daily delivery challenges.

Diversity is a source of strategic strength.  

The diversity we embed within our organisations offers the greatest benefit when we’re proactive in harnessing its power to reveal gaps in our thinking and to challenge our assumptions.  

What do other people see when they look at a problem? How do they perceive the world and interpret experience?  

Asking questions like these is a fundamental of participatory strategic design.  

Having these conversations will deliver a more robust strategy. Note though, that effective strategy requires a commitment to acting and to recognising when you make mistakes in order to move towards improvement. Building awareness and practicing the art of incisive reflection, along with the ability to actively apply the lessons we learn along the way, is the real breakfast of champions.  

Bring energy to strategic design.

“Strategy isn’t about filling out the blocks in a strategic plan. It’s about envisioning a new future so vividly that we can make it real.”

Dr. Jeanne Liedtka, Darden School of Business

What is most insightful about Jeanne’s words, is her ability to capture the focus needed to set ambitious goals. It is this type of energy that has driven the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.

If we can harness even a fraction of this energy in how we design strategy, and then amplify it through genuine collaborative action, imagine the change we could create. And all starting from the power of simple conversation.  

Of course, we know that it doesn’t end there. And it is the next step that is often most critical in the planning process, lest all the power of those collaborative discussions evaporate into hot air.  

Progressing your valuable strategic insights into tangible outcomes is not an act of magic. It is a core reason for involving your people (beyond the executive) into the designing process. Our people are the ones who will drive the changes that your strategy demands. How we harness that power to create impact is a core focus of participatory strategic design.  

Ready to have your own conversations? Let’s chat -

Struber has been supporting public and private sectors to guide difficult conversations, inspire innovation, and foster ownership with our unique Participatory Design approach, tailored for impact and successful outcomes. And I’m here to give you the right level of support.  

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