“…Crazy stuff, we rarely had such a creative and productive journey in the last years…”
This was a quite impressive quote by a CEO of a global cooperation. What made him so happy was a workshop sequence aiming at innovating the own business model.
I worked for more than fifteen years in strategy consulting and organizational development. For three years I apply very often the Business Model Generation (BMG) concept of Alex Osterwalder. This approach has many great advantages. It is based on Design Thinking principles, which brings new creativity, spirit and energy into the game of strategy making. Even more so as it is very collaborative, which allows involving more and different kind of people in strategy making processes. This adds to the variety of backgrounds, knowledge and ideas which join forces for building new strategy. But also, and perhaps the most important aspect, it helps building ownership among the stakeholders for a new strategy or business model.
For me, it was and still is a revolutionary approach and a new strategy school. But as easy as it may seem at first glance, also BMG processes need proper facilitation.
After many workshops and BMG sessions with teams on different organizational levels, the experience was growing. When to use, and which, tools out of the ever growing toolbox for BMG? How to prepare sessions best? What kind of research is helpful upfront? How to staff productive groups? These questions and some more are critical for successful work on new business models. So far so good…
Today, more and more c-level managers are looking at business model innovations. They want to get involved and make the process their own, they want to discover and design the future of their enterprises.
But these people are different. And they are not much used (any more) to get involved in a creative process together with peers and other managers. Very often they are impatient and have extremely high expectations. They love fast processes and often hate lengthy discussions. Working together with others is something most of them are not used to anymore – there often is a high level of testosterone (and ego) around and the group dynamics are sometimes very challenging. These frame conditions are not really favorable to BMG processes – thus, the big question is how to get results with c-level teams?
I see four critical success factors for the BMG work with c-level teams:
- Prepare individually: There is big value in the onboarding and preparation process. Each member of the team should be prepared not only content wise but more importantly with respect to the attitude that is required. This part is more like an executive coaching process and needs sufficient time to be invested into before. Without this investment in the beginning, the process will fail almost for sure.
- Provide structure, offer precast models: I learned that c-level managers sometimes need more structure than other groups. Here is my hypothesis: They are keen on (fast) results and very effective work in workshops. Lengthy and unstructured (or rather not straightforward and exclusively goal-oriented) discussions make them nervous and they tend to lose patience. Therefore it is a good idea to prepare and bring research, benchmarking examples, alternative models etc.. I have very good experience with providing some kind of skeletons or sketches of possible new models as input for the discussion (this can be an outcome from the preparation phase). Maybe this sounds like thwarting openness and creativity. But trust me, once the group is aligned to one common idea, a real firework of model design can start. Thus, providing a rather narrow entry point facilitates openness and creativity later on as it spares you from long discussions about the right starting point, which is what you don’t really want in BMG.
- Integration by a leader: We know the concept “integration by a leader” from the theory of interdisciplinary teamwork. It means that the team will bring in ideas, insights, and thoughts and engage in experimenting and modeling to a certain extend without the pressure of finding a final consensus or version. One team member takes responsibility for mediating, synthesizing and integrating the results of the group discussion and proposes a next version or options for a model for further discussion. For c-level teams this concept works extremely well. Creative sessions with the team can be short and very effective. And the quality of results is likely to be high. (the role of the integrator might often be well assumed by the consultant)
- The energy of ownership: Outstanding effect of the team based BMG approach is the unique feeling of ownership. This is true for every group working with this concept. C-level teams are aware of their power and ability to realize the ideas born in such work streams. Feeling the ownership of new ideas and visions leads to great leadership energy and confidence, which is a necessary prerequisite for successful implementation.
- Mind the role of consultants: Consultants in strategy processes tend to bring in their views and ideas as experts. BMG consulting is different – it is more like facilitating and creating a journey as a learning experience. Excellent results, strong ownership and energy for execution will significantly depend on the ability of the consultant to support the team and to create a favorable spirit.
Corporate leaders are mostly outstanding personalities with outstanding knowledge, abilities, and also egos. BMG consulting in such teams is a bit like coaching a world class soccer team to maximum performance. C-level teams start to ask for such processes ever more – they want to be the originators and initiators of their future business. They want to reinvent the game. A well designed and properly implemented BMG process adds a great deal to their success with these ambitions.