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If nothing else, Nilofer Merchant’s The New How: Building Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy is ambitious. While many management gurus go on about the value of employee empowerment, Merchant spends an entire book showing not only how strategy with input from all employees is better than strategy from a few people at the top, but also how to make it happen.
Merchant takes for granted that every company is full of people with good ideas. What makes her book so intriguing is that she offers a way for companies to eliminate as many good ideas as possible so they can concentrate on the great ones.
Merchant is founder, chief strategist, and CEO of the Rubicon consultancy, and she is both strategic and practical. She identifies one of the major problems companies face — how to conceive of and execute better strategies — and creates a framework for solving that problem.
In direct, provocative language (sample section title: “Blaming People Only Works for So Long”), she lays out a new way to make every employee a strategist. MIT Sloan Management Review Executive Editor Jimmy Guterman talked to Merchant about her theory, how to put it into practice, and what an “air sandwich” is. (If you want more, read an excerpt from The New How.)
One of your basic arguments is that companies need to include employees at all levels in their strategy. That’s conventional wisdom, but few companies do that well. Why do companies who try to do that fail — and how can they succeed?
Companies fail to include employees for three reasons. First, companies often confuse collaboration with a “kumbaya” kind of approach as if how we feel about each other is the point. It’s not. It’s about co-laboring towards a goal. The only real reason we want to include employees at all levels is to let us create better solutions, better outcomes. To avoid this, we need to move beyond “inclusion” to a full engagement where you get ideas and demand that people engage the process of figuring out what should “we” do to win.
The second reason companies fail is that they include employees without engaging them in making decisions.