One of the most overlooked actions to take after a strategic retreat is usually the simplest, communicating what has been decided to the rest of the organization. Research has shown that companies where the strategy is understood across the entire organization outperform their peers.
In order to help a leadership communicate more effectively, we have prepared a guide to follow.
A) Verify the strategic nature of the priorities
Oftentimes, strategic priorities are blended with short-term operational goals. This can create confusion as to what really matters for the organization. Ensuring that priorities are indeed strategic in nature is the first step in proper communication.
Focused: Communicating a small number of priorities signals the importance of the priorities relative to other objectives. This also makes them easier to communicate and remember. If you are attempting to communicate more than five priorities, chances are that they are not all strategic.
Properly summarized: In some cases, companies simply list short phrases summarizing their strategic priorities without further explanation of what these objectives mean. The best approach is to add an explanation which can range from a sentence to a paragraph per priority.
B) Communicating their impact
When a leader communicates the strategy, we propose the following guidelines to follow to ensure that their impact is properly understood.
Make them applicable: Leaders can further clarify their objectives by providing examples of initiatives or programs that help achieve the objectives.
Explain why it matters: Highlighting the importance of the priorities can be done by explaining their importance in the overall strategy.
Specify targets: Companies should make their priorities more tangible by committing concrete targets to measure progress.
Make them memorable: The core message should be clear and reinforced across a range of channels and tactics. A visual is a great way to make it memorable. It could be a creative illustration giving a ‘big picture’ view of the strategy or it could be a simple flow diagram showing the strategy ‘at a glance’.
C) Engage the entire organization
The key part of alignment is involving the entire organization. The creation and communication of the strategy should not be conducted in silos. Here are a few recommendations on how to increase team engagement.
Share employee voices: Hopefully, employees have informed the strategy in some shape or form. Perhaps there has been a recent employee survey, or employee focus groups highlighting challenges that need addressing. The mechanisms employed for listening and how this has influenced the strategic goals should be made clear.
Take it from the top: Leaders have a crucial role in inspiring employees about the strategy. They need to role model it, repeat it, and refer to it often. Leaders need to launch the strategy, showing how they’re all behind it. A single annual meeting will not suffice. A communication outline with core points and an ‘elevator pitch’ as a quick reference should be made available. This will ensure alignment and consistent delivery of the message, wherever they may be – in team meetings, customers and with partners.
Empower managers: Before launching the communication strategy, senior managers should be brought in for a special briefing on the strategy – for instance via face to face meeting, teleconference or webinar with the CEO. Plenty of room should be given for questions, so they can fully understand what it means for their team. Easy-to-use resources for engaging their teams should be provided. Discussion guides work well – helping managers generate debate, new ideas and team-specific responses on what the strategy means for them.
Ignite conversations: To really embed the strategy, opportunities for dialogue should be created. For example, through online Q&A sessions on social media, small functional group discussions, and face to face meetings with leadership. Questions should be addressed and concerns in a central Q&A and through follow up communications. Conversation is crucial to help employees feel ownership and to understand how to implement it in their day-to-day roles.
Bring it to life: What does the strategy really mean for different teams or individuals? Intersperse strategy communications with employee quotes, photos and quick videos explaining what the strategy means to them. Whether they are finance people, IT service desk workers, or those on the shop floor – get employees from varied areas of the business to explain it from their point of view. These stories should be shared with examples of strategy in action. This process alone will make employees natural advocates for the strategy, and help others understand.
Feel it, don’t just think it: The soft side of how employees feel needs to be considered. Painting a vision for success is key.It should be clear that no matter where anyone sits – it can only be achieved by employees working together. Progress should be communicated and acknowledged for their vital role in making it happen.
Embed it in the culture: Having the CEO communicate the business strategy to employees in town halls, blogs or other channels is an obvious step. But employees can also explain the strategies from their own perspectives. People doing the real work of executing those strategies should be interviewed for articles on the intranet or in the employee magazine or newsletter.
Having the right strategy is the most important step but not the only one. Aligning the rest of the team behind the strategy with the leadership team is a critical step in high performing organizations.