Designing for Strategic Engagement

Designing for Strategic Engagement is more than simply creating “another strategic plan”.

In these rapidly changing times, how do I strategically navigate the unknown? What’s my compass for viewing the multiple perspectives to make sense of the new landscape?

This elaboration is for those of you who are yearning to make a significant shift and take your organization to the next level of alignment, coherence and adaptive response-abilities. While the plan creates the framework and direction, we recognize that the future always remains emergent and unpredictable. Consequently, strategic engagement is in service to building your capacity to continually respond adaptively.

Our assumptions around strategic engagement:

  • Successful strategic engagement has both tangible and intangible outcomes
  • It’s a journey focused on what’s possible not a destination
  • Sustainability is determined by readiness for and resistance to change
  • Culture trumps everything!
  • Engagement requires relationships of trust and trustworthiness
  • Valid data drives everything!
  • The wisdom is in the room

A Shift from Strategic Planning to Strategic Engagement 

Strategic planning in many organizations means a series of meetings resulting in a document that often sits on a shelf. Year after year people in organizations gather to have one and two-day conversations about vision, mission, and priorities. Often the planning consultant is charged with doing much of the research, data collection and report writing or documentation. After these conversations people return to their offices and the everyday operations take over again – the strategic thinking and planning have not become embedded into the day to day operations. The cynicism grows about “those visioning sessions”, yet daily operations may continue to lack coherence or bear real meaning and relevance.

What if you had an opportunity for strategic engagement processes that attend to the development of:

  • strategic directions and high-leverage priorities that have built-in adaptive response abilities?
  • new capabilities for shared leadership to live into the strategic directions and priorities?
  • strategic thinking that cascades throughout the organization—all functions, all roles and, if done well, ripples further afield impacting partnerships and the quality of communities?

What would it make possible if everyone in your system helped to create and “own” their future?

We see engaging in strategic direction setting as the vehicle, the foundation for culture change within human systems and for alignment of a group’s purpose, values and core work. At its fullest, it engages multiple stakeholders—internal and external to a human system—to think strategically at all levels of an enterprise. Strategic thinking is a skill involving reflection, inquiry, meaning-making and taking action based on informed decision making—the ability to see the larger picture in the midst of the details.

What would this different way of strategic engagement look and feel like in your setting?

When an engagement process is done well, the deliverables are life-giving and life-sustaining. The tangible outcome of the strategic engagement is a detailed road map for the future and the creation of the short term, first stage of implementation—the operations plan that identifies the goals to be achieved and the strategies for reaching them. The road map articulates the “living documents” that direct capacity building, decision-making and system-wide change for the future.

We know there are tangible and intangible aspects of this process. An intangible outcome of a strategic engagement process is how the experience affects people involved in it. A successful and fully “embedded” engagement creates conditions for people within organizations to make a greater commitment to the future. Co-creating together enables people to see the value in and practice of collaboration, to build their relationships and become energized by owning what they create—all of which contribute to the tangible and measurable results in the long run.

What enables learning and prototyping for innovation?

Here is a case study representing our approach to strategic engagement. (Link to Case Study —

Graphic Recording captures engagement = We have often worked with a graphic recorder/facilitator who makes the process come even more “alive” with a visual recording of the proceedings. Lisa Arora’s web site