Strategies are key to moving companies and organizations closer to their vision. Most Leadership teams understand the value of a strong strategy- look at how much time, effort, and resources they pour into developing and updating them year after year.
Does Strategy Equal Success?
Having a great strategy doesn’t guarantee success because strategies are only effective when they’re executed consistently. And successful execution is directly dependent on those people doing the work. According to Metrus Group Research, ‘only 14% of employees understand their organizations’ overarching strategies’. That’s a big problem because it’s those employees that get things done. Or not.
So, what’s at the root of this problem? Why aren’t employees understanding the strategies they’re expected to act on? The answer is ‘communication’. The single most overlooked secret to a successful strategy.
James O’Mara captures it perfectly saying, “The cornerstone of effective execution is awareness and understanding. This can only be achieved through persistent and consistent communication of the strategy.”
After the strategic planning exercise wraps up, everyone involved is pumped, aligned, and raring to go. They know what needs to be done and why. The mistake that’s made is assuming that their understanding will translate out through the ranks without a disciplined communication plan. The leadership teams that will be successful are the ones who take the time to articulate, document and tell the story of their strategy repeatedly for as long as it takes to ensure everyone understands it.
The Key Message Should be the ‘Why’
Expecting staff to hear it once or twice and be good to go is unrealistic. They already have full plates and if it’s yet another change in direction that comes with the perception of more work for them, they likely aren’t going to embrace it with open arms.
Leaders often overestimate the amount of tolerance to change their teams have. And the more changes an organization has gone through (re-orgs, mergers, added services, new policies, or external impacts- think pandemic), the more fatigued and resistant they become. That’s why it’s so important to not just share the ‘what’ piece of your strategy. The ‘why’ is your best chance of motivating your teams.
Communication Should Be a Core Business Management Skill
Communications expert Walter G. Montgomery says that “Whether a company succeeds or fails in navigating a crisis, completing a merger, avoiding regulatory blunders, or executing everyday operations depends heavily on skillful communication. Yet, paradoxically, communication is an undervalued, lightly regarded discipline in the theory and practice of corporate leadership.” In our experience, truer words were never spoken! And this applies equally to the not-for-profit sector.
Communicating well is a fundamental tool of implementing strategy and yet it’s repeatedly overlooked and underestimated, most likely because its impact and value are difficult to measure. They’re far more qualitative and certainly not as easy to track as sales, profit, or production.
There does finally seem to be a shift for the better on the horizon. In the study Communications from the CEO’s Perspective, the CEO’s that were surveyed said ‘they believe communication has itself become part of the strategy and therefore a core business management function in its own right’. We wholeheartedly agree and that’s why as part of our strategic planning approach we have begun to bake in a communications exercise to help teams identify who needs to know about their strategy, what they need to be told, by whom, etc.
In Part 2, we’ll discuss some practical tips and tactics that will help you build some communications rigor into your organization 😊