A recent article in the March 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review looked closely at the five myths of strategy execution (“Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About It”). Myth #3 focuses on my favorite strategy execution “must have”: communication.
As the authors rightly point out, many organizations believe that communication of their strategy automatically translates into a common understanding of the strategy by every person who has received the communication. Unfortunately this isn’t the case in the real world. Just because an employee attends the annual strategy roll out or CEO pep talk doesn’t mean that they will walk away with an understanding of the strategy.
In my experience, moving from communication to understanding when it comes to strategy has more to do with the following communication/message attributes:
Focus and Clarity: I often see strategy communication presentations that include mission, vision, core values, value proposition, strategic directions/objectives, priorities, goals, targets, etc. – the whole nine yards. With this deluge of information, it doesn’t take long to get confused about what the core strategy truly is! Quality strategy communications are focused on answering a few critical questions: What is our purpose? Why do our customers do business with us? What must we focus on to deliver irresistible value to our customers AND make money? and What does success look like? A strategy communicated in this context is clear, focused, and easy for everyone to understand and, more importantly, remember.
Cohesion: Strategic plans and their directions/objectives are often presented as a laundry list with no apparent connections made between the elements. However, everyone in your organization knows that everything in your business is connected – and they want to see the connections in your strategy. Making the connections clear between strategic objectives, and talking through how they all work together to produce results, paints a clear, cohesive, and memorable picture of your strategy that employees will be sure to understand.
Consistency of Message: Once you have a clear, focused, and cohesive strategy story, does it get told in a consistent way every time, even when recounted by different people? Sure there’s room for individual personalities and communication styles but, at its core, the story of your strategy must remain the same every time it gets shared. When it isn’t, it’s confusing. And confusion makes understanding impossible.
Localization: While understanding the organization’s strategy is important, understanding where and how one contributes, individually and as part of a team, to successful realization of that strategy in your day to day work life is critical. Until employees can see their part in the picture their understanding of the strategy just isn’t complete.
Infusing strategy communications with these four attributes must be partnered with the use of multiple communication vehicles and venues as well as varied and frequent communication touch points. Annual CEO keynotes. Quarterly town halls. Monthly newsletters. CEO blogs. Daily shift changeover meetings. Manger-employee one-on-one’s. Informal chats and conversations. These are all occasions that can and should include strategy communications, discussions, and dialogue.
Building ALL of these parameters into strategy communications makes understanding more likely and probable.
However, is understanding strategy REALLY the key to successful strategy execution? I’m not sure that it really is. What I think we really need to strive for is creating employees who have strategy knowledge mastery. Driving to create strategy knowledge mastery involves ensuring that employees have the correct knowledge of the strategy AND that they have total confidence in the correctness of their knowledge. With this in mind, understanding strategy becomes only part of the confidence equation.
Here’s the thing – your employees’ confidence in their knowledge of your strategy should be high on your radar screen because research has shown that level of confidence is an important factor in translating knowledge into action. And since strategy execution is all about translating your strategy into action, employee confidence in their knowledge of your strategy, or their level of strategy knowledge mastery, is the essential factor that drives strategy execution success.
So how do we create confidence? It turns out that repeated exposure to the same material over time increases confidence levels until, eventually, recipients of the information develop a certain level of mastery of that material or knowledge. In my experience, mastery also requires repeated exposure of consistent, high quality information in different venues and situations through/by different people/teachers/coaches/mentors.
The return for your investment in building strategy knowledge mastery across your organization is:
> Higher quality/more aligned operational AND strategic decision making;
> The creation of high value innovations and improvements (at all levels of your organization) that accelerate your strategy execution efforts and the realization of your strategy; and
> Increased levels of employee engagement with, and ownership for, the execution and improvement of your strategy.
The ultimate benefit of investing in creating strategy knowledge mastery for your organization is better business and customer results and outcomes achieved more efficiently and quickly.
So my advice to help ensure strategy execution excellence for your organization?
1 Focus on creating strong, high quality strategy communications that embody the 4 essential attributes I outlined earlier,
2 Deliver quality strategy communications with impact frequently in multiple different venues and situations,
3 Provide employees with opportunities to share their strategy knowledge with others and provide teachers/coaches/mentors who can reinforce that they are in fact demonstrating strategy knowledge mastery (and, if this isn’t the case, provide the support required to raise their personal knowledge of the strategy to mastery levels),
4 Regularly assess employees’ level of strategy knowledge mastery using an assessment tool designed to do exactly that (here’s a link to the best assessment tool I know - click here) and put plans in place to raise masterly levels when indicated, and
5 Repeat 1 – 4 in a never ending cycle of strategy communication investment and excellence that’s focused on creating an entire workforce of employees possessing strategy knowledge mastery!