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Stop 'cascading' strategy. Try this instead.

Aug 25, 2022


After a couple of months' hiatus, I'm back and with heaps to talk about!

This week's dispatch is provoked by the work I've been doing with a few different clients around 'rebooting' their strategy. I reckon now is a great time for leaders to be thinking very differently about how they launch any kind of strategy in their organisation. (Spoiler alert: it might not even include the word strategy!)

I then share some exciting news about the launch of my new online program, Building Teams that Hum, following on from the success of last year's pilot program. 

Okay, let's get into it…

“We need to cascade our strategy through the organisation.”

You’ve probably heard the expression used many times before. 

I used to think it was a great metaphor. The word “cascade” reminds me of a waterfall. A waterfall doesn’t work if the water doesn’t get to the bottom. Same for an organisation’s strategy, right? Its inception might happen at the top - the senior leadership team, for example - but it only comes into existence once it makes a splash at the ‘bottom’ i.e. the frontline of the business.

Just one problem, though. Organisations don’t flow according to the laws of gravity… despite our efforts through the creation of hierarchy and chains of command. 

Ultimately, the waterfall/cascading metaphor has a bit of a “top-down bias” going on. Quite possibly, so too do leaders who use this language. 

The most successful strategies aren’t the ones that look good on paper, and have a clear “comms plan”. They are the ones that take hold in the hearts and minds of an organisation’s people. These are the strategies around which people are fiercely aligned. To which people feel closely connected, and for which they are compelled to care.

Bringing your strategy to life in this way depends on something very different from a top-down mindset. Instead, it calls for a mindset of collective success - which asks its leaders to start conversations that cultivate, not just cascade.

This means talking about your strategy not as a corporate necessity, but instead as an evocative story that binds everyone together. It might help not to talk about a “strategy” - a term that’s been well and truly corporatised and zombified - but something more evocative instead. I like collective mission or shared ambition.

As with any good story, your audience needs to be able to see themselves in it before they can embrace it as their own. How am I a part of our collective mission? How do I contribute, and what difference do I make? How connected do I feel to the other heroes of the story?

Perhaps now’s a good time to invite you to replace the mental image of a cascading waterfall with a group of people sitting around a campfire. Stoking the fire, toasting marshmallows, sharing stories and - most importantly - creating a very personal and sacred sense of connection to each other. 

And so… what might you try doing differently the next time you want to get your team fiercely aligned around a collective mission? 



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