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07/17/2012

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Steve Clark

I like the opinions that have been shared by all but think alignment to business strategies at different levels of the organisations should be by those "tactical" initiatives that each department has developed and work on to deliver the strategy. This for me is how gain organisational alignment.Too many people do not understand the difference between strategy and tactical initiatives...Good discussion

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Pranabusiness

Hi Guy, I agree surveying employees about their understanding of the firm's strategy can be risky. However, so is putting wallpaper over termites.

I also agree with your company-wide approach towards the crafting of strategy. Relying on the C-suite to create and communicate strategy in a vacuum isn't a smart move either.

A great place to begin the company-wide approach is through conversation; conversation across the firm that helps bolster an employee's understanding of the game plan so they can make smarter decisions about hiring, selecting vendors, making capital investments, branding, technology, etc.

Gauging an employee's understanding of their comany's strategy isn't a scientific process meant to produce statistically valid data-sets. It's meant to trigger conversation throughout the firm that leads to a deeper level of engagement and alignment. This helps ensure "company-wide" strategy execution and leads to customers who choose to buy their products versus going down the street to the competition. Powerful strategic dialogue can begin by scanning the landscape and capturing an idea of how well the company is set up and ready to execute.

Sandy Richardson

Guy - you raise really valuable points here. First, let's talk about surveying employees about their knowledge and understanding of the company's strategy. As you mention, organizational alignment with strategy is critical for success. As you know there are many elements in the organization that must line up with the strategy: processes, projects, resources, tools, training, technology, budget allocations - I could go on. Employee understanding of and focus on the strategy is just one part of the alignment requirement. I do think that it's important to assess employee knowledge about and understanding of the strategy because operations of your company will be sub-optimized if employees don't understand it. Surveys are an "easy" way to assess all employees quickly and cost-effectively but,as you point out, and I mentioned in the blog, there really haven't been any good survey tools available to do this well - the validity of the information gained has been questionable and unless you create a survey that looks at drivers and outcomes, it's hard to know how to take action on the results. I would encourage everyone to look at the new type of survey tool and approach I mention at the end of the blog post. I have used this assessment tool (let's call it an indicator) with several of my clients and it has proven to be very good at detecting strategy understanding and execution capability problems at all levels of the organization as well as the probable root cause drivers.

That being said, I really dislike relying on survey results for all of my information. I believe that it's also important to evaluate employee understanding of the strategy through ongoing strategy conversations and dialogue. The types of conversations employees have, the questions they ask, and the insights they share tell you a lot about what they understand about the strategy and the level to which they understand it (i.e. have they just heard it or do they understand what it really means so that can apply it effectively to make decisions, solve problems, take action, etc. that are in alignment and will move the strategy forward?)

I totally agree with you that employees at all levels of the organization must participate in the strategy creation, exceution, and reformulation process for the reasons you mention and to produce the best customer and business results. Rather than have the executive level hand down directions to employees, I actually get executives and employees working together to create the strategy (directions and strategy map). This gives employees a better understanding of strategic imperatives from the executive point of view but also prevents the "make it so" situation I often see when execs pass the strategy down to the next levels. Basically, with this approach, executives get to see how the strategy will translate into meaningful action. My clients have had exceptional employee buy in and strategy execution results by taking this approach.

All this being said, the need for strategy communications and discussions never goes away in my opinion. Everyone benefits from hearing and talking about the "strategy story" numerous times and, besides, new people join and the strategy story evolves over time - communication is critical for keeping everyone up to date with the strategy as it sits "today". The best results, however, are achieved when employees actively participate in strategy communications rather than being "communicated to".

Thanks for the book recommendation - I'll be sure to take a look! Sandy

Guy Higgins

Surveying employees about their understanding of corporate strategy is, I think, fraught with risk. First, you are finding out what the employees think they know about the strategy, not what they actually know. Second, if you assume the answers to the survey are valid and the results indicate that your employees know nothing about the corporate strategy, what are you going to do -- the blog talks about communicating strategy. Does that imply that employees don't understand the strategy because it hasn't been communicated to them effectively?

Strategic alignment throughout a company is critical to company success. The best way to achieve that alignment is to listen to what Steve Bungay says in his recent book, The Art of Leadership, Closing the Gaps. Strategy development should be a company-wide (and deep) exercise -- not a C suite exercise. The C suite sets the strategic direction and provides that to the next level of the organization which develops a strategy in response and provides that to the next level -- continuing to the people on the shop floor.

This aligns the organization, generates ownership of the strategy and empowerment and engagement of the workforce. Mr Bungay provides much greater detail and background. It's good.

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