Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are you surprised that 95% of a typical workforce doesn't understand its organization's strategy?

People are the weakest link between Strategy and Execution. 

Business "Strategy" has an aura of mystique around it and has been made complicated by business jargon and experts, and strategic planning is usually something that is formed by upper-level management or the Strategic Planning department without input from those who will execute the strategy. Statistically, shall you be surprised that 95% of a typical workforce doesn't understand its organization’s strategy? But more specifically,  what’re the top-down communication gaps or strategy-execution alignment roadblocks?

Agreement on the Top: One of the issues with strategy implementation is that there is commonly no agreement at the top as to what is meant by strategy. In fact, most employees (include top managers!) don't believe that something like strategy (and especially BUSINESS strategy) really exists and matters. Many organizations have 'strategy' just in order to be 'cool' and 'complete. The term strategy is used in so many different ways that barely one common understanding is established in any organization about what it actually means. The top management team should have agreement and clarity on the business strategy. 

Cross-organizational communication: Once a strategy is developed, it is seldom the case that it is communicated well to all the employeesThey "were all talking about different things." Clarity and communication are must-haves in the strategic planning process. Hence, the common understanding has to be established, not just within c-suites or boards - also within broader management and employee level

Specific Goals & Objectives: Lack of a clear understanding of what they are supposed to do and why they should do it. Once a strategy is created, it needs goals and milestones and ways to course correct while being carried out. Otherwise, how do you know that you are achieving what you set out to do? With regards to making the list of yearly goals is a great idea as long as you can deal with any self-centered departmental or individual dysfunctional behavior. Thus, the emphasis would be on creating focus with clarity and also a process for idea contribution or "owning" a strategy or set of tactics. Set expectations about what is feasible per position.

Agility: static strategy planning cannot adapt to the speed of changes. The voice of life and professional experience speaks to the on-going need for simplistic, agile plans, increased communication, and information at all levels of the organization. In order for any employee to be engaged, they have to at minimum be aware of the plan, followed by understanding and alignment. Employees can't be blamed for not achieving if they didn't know what their part in the plan was supposed to be!

Feedback Loop: In some cases, executives do not cascade a robust specific strategy and how it can be achieved, and rather generalize strategy into very simple common themes that are not well understood by everyone on how it can be achieved because there could be too many ways to achieve it. Once clearly identified and respective resources allocated, feedback loops established and on senior level agreed, communicate, communicate, communicate... Everyone everywhere has to have an understanding of what and why and how SBU's, teams and individuals can contribute linked to performance targets and feedback loops. Only such clarity across the organization will help strategy to come alive and realize buy-in to execute.

Bottom-Up: The strategy comes from the top and is only communicated down methodology is doomed to underperform the market, as it will always lag the market. The best people to promote strategy aren't the board - they are the people in customer service, delivery, and sales. So another part of the strategy is to open your eyes to the wider world. Who else is talking to these customers? Who influences them and why? Who else is selling products/services to them which overlap (even slightly) with yours? How do they connect with these customers? The best people to cover this are your customer-facing people - your call center, your salespeople. They know the other people who crop up in these conversations. 

Culture Engagement: The involvement of the employees would also depend on the culture and size of the organization in question. It takes slightly different messages for different audiences and the need to create organizational alignment. The most important thing you can do for all employees is to create the focus for their productivity and desire to contribute. Organizations need to be bold enough to keep a big pot aside to create building blocks and have patience. The pot, if not managed properly can get empty very quickly. Moreover, it is natural to think about quick wins but getting too absorbed into quick wins can lead to losing the focus.

From strategy-illiterate to strategy cognizant, it takes leadership practice, culture engagement, and process alignment, and it’s one of the most critical steps in minding the gap between strategy and execution, thereof, it is worth the effort. 


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