By David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
I don’t know any senior management team that doesn’t spend days, weeks, working tirelessly on their organization’s strategic plan.
They review the data, envision the future, and shape it into a cohesive entity that fits on a piece of paper. It’s pretty amazing, really. And it’s one of the toughest challenges any team faces: to articulate the strategy that’s going to get you the results Wall Street and others expect.
But the truth is that getting the strategic plan in writing is only the beginning. The real challenge is in getting to the outcome by activating the strategy inside your organization.
When it comes to bringing strategy to life, we’ve all made costly (and often the same) mistakes—mistakes that make the difference between good and great. Mistakes happen when there is confusion, skepticism, and complacency rather than engagement, efficiency, and effectiveness among employees.
If your people don’t know where you’re going and how they fit in, how will they help you get there?
Mistake #1: You don’t have a strategy that’s codified (it’s in your head or in a few leaders’ heads).
You might have the most compelling vision for your organization, but if you can’t get it out of your head and get others to see it and believe in it, it might as well not even exist.
Just because the strategy makes sense to you doesn’t mean it will take only an instant for others to see it like you do.
Employees come to their jobs with their own context, and it’s the leader’s job to help them understand the collective context, including how you see the marketplace today, and how that led to your strategy.
According to our research, a majority of employees globally don’t understand their company’s strategy and, as a consequence, how they fit in. Consider the possibility if even 10 or 20 percent more employees understood their jobs better. What might the impact be on productivity, innovation, or revenue? The reality is that some may have small windows into your view of the strategy, but very few have the whole picture like you do. Lift the perspective out of your head and get it into others’ so they can own it and help you achieve it.
Mistake #2: You create a theme along with your strategy that’s more about talking to yourself than to your core audiences.
Leaders speak TO their own understanding and perspectives instead of engaging WITH employees—it happens too frequently. And the consequences can be staggering. The first misstep many leaders make is packaging their business strategy into a neat theme, slogan, or logo that has no real connection with the strategy itself. As long as it looks pretty or sounds catchy, employees will “get it.” Right? Wrong.
Distracting them with a theme or logo that doesn’t mean anything is simply a lost opportunity to connect, foster dialogue, answer questions, and any number of best practices that inspire and motivate employees.
So you have your strategy in place. And now you want to introduce it to employees, along with a key theme. Ask these questions:
Make sure everything associated with your strategy—from the words that describe it, to the theme or logo that represents it—resonates with those very people on whom you’re relying for success.
Mistake #3: You don’t arm leaders with the training and tools they need to communicate the strategy and make it relevant for their teams.
It’s one thing to hold leaders accountable for communications about the business strategy, but it’s another to fail to support them with the right training and tools to help facilitate it.
Training ensures a leader builds the competence needed to customize and communicate critical information, and there’s no more critical piece of information than your business strategy. Since leadership communication is a learned skill, this is a critical element. When leaders know better, they do better.
Tools provide leaders with what they need to get their message across to various audiences. These often are compiled in a standard kit that leaders can pull from and customize. There also might be a tool that highlights the key leadership behaviors that will have the most impact in delivering an important message, such as face-to-face or small-group communications vs. other vehicles.
Finally, leaders need to be assessed. How are they doing at meeting the expectations you’ve set for them?
I call it the Core Four: accountability, tools, training, and measurement. Miss one, and you’ve reduced your chances of moving leaders to action.
Excerpt from Chapter 11 of “You Can’t Not Communicate: Proven Communication Solutions that Power the Fortune 100” by David Grossman (Second Edition). To purchase the book and learn about other common mistakes CEOs can’t help but make, visit http://www.yourthoughtpartner.com/book.
David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an authority on communication and leadership, and an advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. He facilitates training programs developed exclusively for senior leadership teams for some of world’s top organizations. A two-time author, Grossman is CEO of The Grossman Group (http://www.yourthoughtpartner.com), a Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy. Clients include Accor, AOL, GlaxoSmithKline, HTC, and McDonald’s.