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strategy and business
 / Summer 2013 / Issue 71(originally published by Booz & Company)


Leading with Intellectual Integrity

The old strategic review process had also been an impediment to collaboration among P&G’s businesses and functions. If the hair-care category president came into the review seeking only to defend his strategy and avoid any criticism, he would be less likely to talk openly about how the hair-care choice cascade fit with the choice cascade for skin care or home care. Nor would senior leadership be inclined to force the issue. Yet such discussions are vital. Without firsthand experience with just that type of dialogue—knitting together various choice cascades across a corporation—emerging leaders can’t develop their strategic integrity muscle, and senior leaders get less practice doing so as well.

To address these roadblocks, we fundamentally transformed the process and tone of our annual strategy reviews. We shifted the paradigm to one of candid conversation and exploration. Teams still prepared a strategy presentation in advance of the meeting, but rather than take time in the meeting to review it, they provided the work to the senior team several weeks in advance. The senior team then issued to the category team a set of discussion topics for the meeting.

This enabled us to focus the meeting on constructive dialogue involving those specific strategic issues, and it helped shift the tone from defensiveness to a joint exploration of possibilities. We also initiated a continuous series of conversations on strategic matters, conducted at all levels: brand, category, sector, customer, channel, region, country. A common theme of these discussions was how the choices knitted together, how they fit with the broader corporate strategy, and how the team planned to measure results moving ahead. These discussions were driven by a commitment to asking tough questions, which brought issues to the surface that everyone was thinking privately but nobody felt ready to say out loud. Articulating these kinds of thoughts can create helpful tension and can lead to a true shared purpose.

Toward a World of Integrity

Throughout all the strategy discussions at P&G, the objective was to get leaders comfortable with collaborating on strategy, playing with ideas, and challenging their own thinking—and thus to build the integrity of the leadership of the company. By framing strategy as the answer to five integrated questions, we avoided fragmentation. Fragmentation is a trap that all organizations, whether in the for-profit, nonprofit, or government sectors, can fall into—to their own detriment.

In the U.S. government, for instance, right now, many groups are working in one way or another on energy policies. But there is no comprehensive strategy, no single set of aspirations that guide an integrated set of cascading choices for the country’s energy future. Instead of having an integrated aspiration, a sense of where to play, a sense of how to win there, and the right capabilities, the United States is lurching from the Canadian pipeline to alternative energy investments to shale-based oil and gas. Companies fall into the same trap, attempting to do everything at once without a guiding principle to direct resources and drive action. The result is wasted resources, inaction, and disillusionment. It doesn’t have to be that way.

At P&G, every strategy document at every level of the organization had to specify clear where-to-play and how-to-win choices. Not every CEO will define the company’s choices in that explicit way, but every CEO should internalize the need to make every choice—from aspiration through management systems—part of an overarching, integrated strategy.

This will pay off, but it won’t be easy. None of these choices can be exercised through a rulebook or through top-down fiat. They can’t be made once, and then left for all time. Strategy choices have to be made thoughtfully and organically with a good deal of organizational give and take. They must be revisited and reexamined regularly. Norms and assumptions must be challenged, and every attempt must be made to see the world as it is, not as it was or as you would wish it to be. It’s far, far easier to refuse to make these choices, to make them in isolation from each other, or to make them for only one part of the business without considering the implications for the whole.

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  1. A.G. Lafley with Ram Charan, “P&G’s Innovation Culture,” s+b, Autumn 2008: The deliberate steps that enabled P&G’s company-wide embrace of game-changing activity.
  2. A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013): Explicates the principles underlying the choice cascade.
  3. A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin, Jan W. Rivkin, and Nicolaj Siggelkow, “Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, Sept. 2012: Describes a choice cascade process.
  4. Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi, The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011): How to develop a coherent strategy by integrating your value proposition (“way to play”) and capabilities.
  5. Roger Martin, The Opposable Mind: Winning through Integrative Thinking (Harvard Business Review Press, 2009): This view of complex, contradiction-embracing leadership resonates with intellectual integrity.
  6. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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