Building Consensus

Episode 99: Building Consensus

Consensus can be a dirty word. It implies compromise. Compromise invites committee thinking. And committee thinking is associated with safe and uninteresting solutions. But without consensus, we can’t deliver a digital strategy. How do we achieve consensus while remaining daring and innovative?

Let’s start by saying that consensus is necessary. As strategists, our role is to drive the thinking and deliver the broad vision, connecting disparate elements together. But that is not enough to be considered successful. For it to be perceived as such, a strategy needs to be executed, and the results need to bear out as originally conceived. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of a digital strategy, this means having a team execute your strategy. But getting it done is not enough. It needs to be done quickly, accurately, well, and with a high degree of passion. You can’t have people passionately deliver unless they feel a sense of ownership in the strategy. And that can’t happen without consensus.

The concern is that consensus can only be achieved through committee decision making and compromise. In an industry based on bold ideas and innovation, this concept is anathema. It implies focusing on middle of the road, safe and conservative ideas since these are the ones most likely to make their way out of the sausage grinder that is a committee.

But building consensus can be done without resorting to a committee or watering down the idea. To do so requires taking three specific steps:

First, pre-sell individuals. Invest time in talking with the individual team members, understanding their perspectives, biases and ideas. Give them context of the problem you are trying to solve and preview elements of the proposed solution. Don’t present it to them as a fait acomplit, but rather as some initial ideas and as where your thinking currently lies. Give them the opportunity to challenge these ideas.

Second, bring them into the ideation session. Use a strategic framework to guide the session. Ask leading questions that will help them arrive at the idea you have originally conceived. But don’t impose your idea on them. Rather, let them come to the conclusions themselves because in doing so, they now have ownership of the idea and the emotional buy in necessary for them to execute passionately.

Finally, take responsibility. While you will give your team mates the credit for the ideas, if there are any dissenting voices that may tempt the group to water down the strategy into something safer, make sure to head these off by saying that you will take responsibility for the outcome. If they persist in their objections, invite them to take responsibility for the changes. This generally leads to people backing down pretty quickly, since responsibility of this type requires a degree of courage and faith in the ability of the team to deliver.

These steps ensure the development of the consensus necessary to successfully deliver the strategy without the stigma of compromise or collective thinking. It means threading a needle, but it is the only way to ultimately demonstrate and deliver value as a strategist.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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