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How to help employees understand your strategy

Leadership teams typically spend a lot of time debating and discussing strategy, but less time communicating it to the organisation. Credit: http://ow.ly/8MQc30aqddW.

Leadership teams typically spend a lot of time debating and discussing strategy, but less time communicating it to the organisation. While it's crucial for leadership teams to be on the same page, all levels of the organisation are responsible for executing strategy to drive success. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that only 14% of employees understand their company’s strategy and direction.

Everyone in your organisation should be able to define your strategy, explain how it affects them and what actions they must take to achieve the strategic vision. For those organisations focussed on delivering Positive Impact - the intentional creation of enduring social and economic value – strategy execution becomes an essential tool in order to maximise economic and social impact. Give your strategy the best chance of success and follow these five methods to clarify your strategy for every employee.

1: Tie incentives to strategy
One of the simplest ways to ensure your employees understand strategy is to demonstrate how it will impact them. Create incentives tied to your strategy. When your employees can see explicitly which activities are being rewarded, they’ll know how they can contribute to the strategy. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the budget for monetary incentives – nonfinancial rewards can be more powerful, especially when employees see progress on the strategic economic and social outcomes they’re working towards. Make heroes out of your people by rewarding desired behaviour.

2: Communicate time management
When senior managers visibly spend time on the strategy, it will naturally carry through to employees as a high priority. An easy way to track if strategy is one of your employees’ priorities is to track where they spend their time day-to-day. Singling out individuals can be seen as too authoritarian – instead, use a time tracking software to create a monthly roll-up of your employees’ time. Communicate the monthly results in a short email to your team. If the amount of time spent on strategic activities is too low, there is an opportunity for the organisation to ask where they should be spending their time and why. This approach is particularly helpful when employees are working across multiple countries and time zones.

3: Survey your employees
Recurring and anonymous surveys about strategy are easy and effective ways to test and monitor your employees’ understanding of the strategy. The benefits are twofold: firstly, you will gain insights into whether your employees understand your strategy and are able to execute it; secondly, you can monitor your employees’ level of engagement. The language and focus of survey questions can reinforce the strategy by showing what leadership wants to know. Once an employee truly understands the strategy and their role in its execution, they should feel like they’re part of something larger than just their immediate team.

For example, a strategy which strives to create positive social outcomes can be very motivating for employees. A 2015 Deloitte survey found that 6 out of 10 Millennials say that a “sense of purpose” is a key factor for choosing and staying with employers. And of course, engaged employees are more productive and stay with their organisations longer, significantly reducing operational and recruitment costs.

4: Use quality communication (over quantity)
As soon as every member of the leadership team “signs off” on the strategy, leaders are responsible for making sure the strategy is understood by employees. Successful organisations integrate financial and social impact within their strategies and make it a priority to communicate that direction to their employees as soon as possible.

Communicating the strategy is critical and is most effective when delivered by senior leaders. Although CEOs and senior leaders are busy, involve these leaders as much as possible in your communications. Don’t let your strategy communications fall into a “check the box” exercise. Instead, use “understanding” as a measure of success. Make sure your teams are having one-on-one strategy-focused conversations with their direct reports – not only will employees feel more engaged, but it will provide valuable feedback from the workforce.

5: Emphasise clear contributions from all sides of the business
While strategy impacts everyone in an organization, implementing the changes is typically assigned to a smaller team. To ensure that everyone understands (and doesn’t feel left out of) the strategy, a single-page explanation of the critical changes and outcomes is very valuable. We recommend using a Strategy Map to develop and communicate the strategy. Place this map on a poster and have individuals circle where they fit in. Use it as a tool to maintain consistent communication and help employees see both their role and the impact of the strategy. This way, everyone understands they’re an important part of the strategy execution puzzle. It’s vital that all parts of the company understand they play an important role in strategy execution to achieve.

As a leader, you must communicate your strategy clearly so that every employee understands what actions they must take, every day, to reach your organisation’s social and economic goals. Over the next month, put one or two of these methods into practice – your strategy and your employees will thank you for it.

For more information about our strategy execution services please email Caleb Powers (Caleb.Powers@thepalladiumgroup.com) or visit our strategy capabilities page.