How the catchball process facilitates communication and buy in of your goals



Now that you’ve set your annual objectives and tasks for each area of your business, you’re all set to press go on your strategy, right? Not quite. Optimized goal cascades make use of the catchball process to communicate and refine objectives.

Written by: James Milsom, Digital Marketing Manager

The good news is that you're in the right ball park, but for your strategy to truly hit a home run you’ll need to integrate the catchball process. But what is the Hoshin Kanri method of catchball and how does it relate to your strategy? Thankfully, it's a tool that's going to ensure you have buy-in of your strategy, and is often described as a 'driving force of alignment, clarification and employee involvement' for organizations like Toyota. This is what you need to know about catchball and how to implement it…

What is the catchball process?

A logical question to start with, but all too easy to ignore and skip to the process itself.

Catchball is the process whereby a company's vision is broken into individual goals. These are then cascaded through a series of constructive conversations between different organizational levels and units, ending with everyone understanding how they contribute to that vision. You’ll often hear the metaphor that’s it’s akin to a game of toss. Passing from the top down to the bottom, everyone necessary to the process can share their views and opinions on the idea and throw the ball back should the idea fail to stick.

As an element of the Hoshin Kanri strategic management approach, it’s a decision-making system that makes for involved, high-quality plans that have the buy-in necessary to achieve your goals.

By deploying the catchball process your business will be in a position where information is shared, reviewed and refined at multiple levels of your hierarchy.

Put another way, it’s like a game of baseball where hitting a home run isn’t necessarily the aim. Instead, there’s a systematic approach of passing the ball from one base to another, and, should an idea not stick, throwing it back for refinement.

Yes, an odd thought, but stick with me here.

Process design for catchball

The essence of catchball comes down to collective agreement, however you must establish how this can be reached. This is what is referred to as process design.

There are 3 different methods that can be adopted to create agreement:

1) Ringi system

Originating from Japan, this approach boils down to unanimity in the sense that all members involved in catchball must reach agreement at each stage. It's great for resolving herd mentality, where our ability to comprehend and form our own opinions is curtailed by pressure to conform. This promotes individual thinking which is then aggregated to a level where all can agree.

2) Social judgement

Social judgement theory suggests we draw conclusions on the basis of available information. If a Head of Marketing values adding a new communication channel to their campaign mix because of its ability to amplify messaging, the Head of Finance may see less value in this, instead focusing on the negatives such as the cost and immediate ROI. In catchball we must ensure that we can understand the points of view that form judgements and use social judgement theory to aggregate them to enable a consensus and buy-in.

3) Delphi

Emanating from a 1950s US defence research project, this approach ensures that individuals can air their own judgements in a way conducive to reaching a consensus. How? Individual contributions can be made by 'structured communication' such as a survey. This removes any prejudice around someone's role, background or authority, instead focussing on the issue at hand. Of course, this can also run the risk of an endless exercise, therefore it's crucial to select a strong number of participants to result in an agreement.

Now that you've designed the method to ensure proper communication and assessment, it's time to step up to the plate and kick-off our game of catchball.

Hoshin Kanri policy deployment and goal deployment eBook

Communicating and engaging via catchball

As the team takes the field, you’ll want to make sure the key players are able to take position.

From the executive team through to the frontline staff, it’s all about using the strengths of every player on the team to put on a classic game of ball when it comes to your strategy.

Once the pitcher (executive team) has thrown the ball, the idea is now in-flight, making its way to the first respondent – the batter (senior management).

Now, the initial opinion of senior management will be key here. Their response, or bat, is key to finding the next logical person in the process, the catcher (middle management). Their role is to take the initial, somewhat raw idea and have a first stab at assessing it. How did the ball fit in the catcher’s mitt? Was it a snug fit, or did it require some alteration before the ball nestled itself in the mold of the glove?

Not every idea or initiative is perfect in the proposal stage, but that’s why the catcher is so important here. It’s all about social-validation of the initial idea. They need to be able to review and then throw the ball (or idea) out to first base, second and so forth. As the ball transfers from each base, reaching its way to frontline staff, the idea is being refined and improved, finding its way ever-closer to home plate (the end destination).

But what if the idea doesn’t get buy-in from a particular level (or the catcher can’t quite reach for the ball)? That’s where the ball needs to be thrown back to the previous player, and that player then adjusts the idea so that it can be correctly received (bought-in as an acceptable idea) by the next player.

The result is that everyone has participated in the process, aligning and working towards achieving the company’s goals, having given their input on each action and idea. Do this consistently, and the results will pay off. Babe Ruth and the 1927 New York Yankees make way, you’ve put together the greatest series of games, and team, of all time!Want to learn more about Hoshin Kanri? Be sure to download our free 24-page eBook as we explore everything you need to know about sucecssfully deploying your strategy in 2020 and beyond!

How to ensure success with your goal cascade

We all love getting to dissect the perfect game, the perfect pitch, and the science behind it. Well, now is the time to do just that with catchball and a checklist on what you need to do to ensure success.

1) Leaders are where it starts

All great sporting franchises have quality leadership.

After all, strong leadership has a trickle down effect.

There’s a reason why Lou Gehrig and Derek Jeter top most baseball fan’s list of great captains and on-field leaders.

As a leader, it is your role to make sure that every one necessary can participate in the game. A healthy, fighting fit team is one that will provide you great results every time.

It is a leader’s role to ensure in the game of catchball that the batter, catcher, outfield players and everyone involved can participate in a way that proves a great use of their time and abilities.

That means giving each player the time to investigate the plan and deliver feedback before passing the ball to the next player, or throwing the ball back.

2) Empower your team

They’re part of your organization for a reason, so you need to make sure they’re empowered to participate in this process.

Equally, you need to ensure you’ve briefed them on the rules of the game, and they know the role they’re set to play.

But above all else, you’re all playing for the same result – so every constructive comment should be welcomed.

And the risk of passing the ball to a disengaged, unprepared fielder?

They’ll disrupt the process or, at worst, accept the idea at face value, which can impact the overall buy-in, and ultimate success of the plan.

3) Home field advantage

Catchball involves your organization working on the same page, and it’s crucial that you don’t overlook choosing the right venue. That’s right, it’s your role as the leader to select the perfect location to play ball. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when choosing the field of play:

    • Is your organizational culture one that promotes inclusion and freedom of information?
    • How much time is going to be required from each player in the game?
    • Do those involved prefer team meetings featuring every player, or do they perform better in one-to-one sessions where the ball is passed from each passer to the next in a structured, focused, private location?

Bottom line, when scouting the right location, make sure it’s one where every player can perform to their best abilities and aren’t left inhibited by culture, time-restraints and the method in which the game is played.

Catchball case study

In practice, inolving your employees in deploying your strategy is difficult to achieve.

However, when executed correctly, the catchball process should drive greater belief in goals, improve your team's understanding of the initiatives which will deliver this, and be instilled with motivation and clarity of what needs to be done on a daily basis to achieve breakthrough results.

While Hoshin Kanri has been adapted in an end-to-end manner by organizations such as Xerox, the catchball process has also been modified. 

The Rover automobile group, based in the UK, were the subject of a case study by Charles Tennant and Paul Roberts in 2001, and illustrates a fantastic evolution of the process.

When Rover wanted to roll out its version of Hoshin, Strategic Policy Deployment, it stumbled at the annual objective setting stage. Three proposals were made for defining these goals:

  1. A research team identify major issues and develop a plan without consensus from the teams beneath
  2. Small groups of executives would create the plan, achieving a small amount of consensus
  3. A significant sample of management level personnel would help define the plan and achieve considerable buy-in of the strategy

"The first option was considered to be unsuitable, based on the realisation that the quality strategy team would not be able to identify all major issues intuitively, let alone accurately identify effective remedial actions.

The second option, although preferable to the first, would only be based on minor consensus, and would not take sufficient account of the major company issues and process dependencies.

Therefore, the third option was selected based on the premise that as significant company resources would be expended on the deployment of the quality strategy, then it was justifiable to allocate commensurate levels of resource and time to develop, clarify and communicate the strategy." 

Rover's adaptation of the catchball process came to:

  1. Interviewing a small number of key stakeholders from each business unit
  2. Developing initial goals
  3. Surveying across functions to ask what each interviewee believed the goals should be for their areas (but required a vision before any interview would move to how can we bridge a gap between your vision and the desired state)
  4. Results analyzed and fed back into the plan
  5. Workshops then reviewed the plan in a wider sense
  6. A new proposal was made for the plan
  7. This was agreed with each unit owner
  8. Sign off from a central unit (such as a EPMO or Strategy Realization Office)

Their application offers a unique insight into the practicality of catchball, and the Tennant paper should be recommended reading for any reader.

How catchball affects your initiatives

The catchball process can be of tremendous use for your goal cascade, and more broadly the overall success of your strategic initiatives.

As part of Hoshin Kanri, it will help you gain a greater realisation of how feasible your plans are, and gauge the level of success possible via them.

It gives clarity on who's going to be able to execute each element and ensures your organization can deliver an aligned game-plan.

It provides a 360 degree understanding and affirmation of what will work, and constant re-affirmation of this fact.

So, remember these five factors when it comes to playing ball with the catchball process:

  1. Lead by example and provide an environment where the process can succeed
  2. Encourage discussion and participation
  3. Empower everyone involved in the process
  4. Choose the right location for the game
  5. Rinse and repeat the process for continuous improvement.

Ready to improve your goal cascade?

Now that you’re ready to play ball with the catchball process, it’s time to take it the next level. How? With the W process. Watch the video below to learn the 5 step process that’ll make you a master at catchball:




Want to learn more about how to overcome your organization's goal delivery challenges?

We have a wealth of resources freely available to digest, all designed to help you achieve your strategic goals. We've hand picked the below to set you on the right track:

About the author

James is i-nexus' Digital Marketing Manager. Bringing a passion for strategy from a marketing angle, you'll find he loves to intertwine sports and strategy. His background covers industries such as energy, broadband, education and employee benefits.

If you'd like to talk more about your strategic challenges, reach out to James on or connect with James on LinkedIn for more strategic insights.

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