Although the percentages of failed strategic initiatives vary, there are studies that show them reaching as high as 90% percent. To be honest, we are more optimistic about the real number, but there is an undeniable problem in the execution of strategies.
That problem is alignment. Too many people in too many organizations execute daily on tasks that are not aligned with their objectives. Others simply have no idea where they fit in the overall strategy of their organization.
In this article, we’ll discuss the best way for companies to communicate their strategy and align all the teams to the plan. Finally, we’ll touch upon the potential of a great vision statement and the values of every organization.
Don’t miss out on the success stories at the end of each chapter. You’ll find useful tips to improve your game.
Expose your strategy
Pitching your strategy doesn’t work
Most companies treat strategy communication like an event, a one-time thing. They talk about “launching” their strategy as if it’s a big marketing campaign, when in fact, it’s more of a transformational process. Ongoing and attention-demanding.
Pitching your strategy to your people the traditional way is simply not functioning. People are resistant and they don’t buy into it. It’s either too abstract to make an impact or too complicated to understand.
If you haven’t also included your employees in the discussions early on, it’s that much harder to make them care. They don’t know how the strategic plan came to be and feel excluded from the process and not valued.
You might build a lot of hype and excitement, but a week later, everything will be back to business-as-usual. People will have forgotten the new strategy and will be doing what they’ve been doing until then.
So, the process reminds people that management doesn’t care about their feedback concerning the organization and the final product feels disconnected from reality.
When, for example, half of the current projects that your people work on aren’t mentioned in the slides, or anywhere really, it feels disregarding.
There is a better way, though. Instead of hosting a big presentation or sharing some excruciating slides, expose your strategy.
Expose your strategy to your people
Make it available to your people all the time. Offer them the ability to overview the whole strategy so they can have a definite context on their decisions and actions.
Every person inside the organization must be able to refer to the strategic plan quickly and with no permission. That way, people will be able to align with the plan and provide context to their decisions.
The strategic plan should belong to the organization’s on-demand goods, like the photocopy machine.
Exposing your strategy in such an open way is also a strong indicator that you trust your people to use it responsibly and regularly to inform their daily operations.
Don’t just pitch your strategy to your people; make it constantly accessible.
Make the exposure smooth
Several tools can help you in exposing your strategy. However, not all of them provide the essential traits that make the exposure worthwhile and effective.
Your method should be as frictionless as possible in your attempt to make strategy available to your people around the clock.
Simplicity in the design decreases friction. Make the plan easy to read, with little jargon and as much clarity as possible.
Finding the desired information should be effortless. Having massive PowerPoint files with a hundred slides or an excel file with too many tabs are not good ways to expose your strategy. People can’t navigate through them easily.
Ensure every project is correctly connected to its rightful objective and that every action and measure is connected to its rightful project.
Every single line of your plan should have only one interpretation. Eliminate all ambiguity and make it simple, easy to understand. When multiple people ask the same question, you know something is wrong with that part of your plan.
Make the experience of going through the strategic plan as painless as possible.
One of our clients included in their Cascade Planner the compensation plans of its senior executives. People were able to see not only their company’s strategy but also the incentives of the people who built the strategy.
That provided profound clarity to the company’s employees on why the strategy was structured that way and provided new insights into their manager’s expectations.
In our platform, every end-user can view and explore her company’s strategic plan. At any time, she can enter the platform, view the strategy, and inform her decisions. She can finally get out of the excel file and into an interactive and easy-to-navigate strategic plan.
Align goals with actions
Understanding strategy is hard
There is one crucial principle when it comes to the communication of your strategy. The further you move from the top, the harder it becomes for people to understand it.
A study showed that up to 50% of mid-level managers understand their organization’s strategy or know how they contribute to it. The number falls under 5% with employees.
The lack of comprehension makes people hesitant to follow and leads to misalignment.
They are too far away from the process and their involvement is minimal to none. The alternative options discussed in the planning process are not evident, and the resulting plan feels alien.
People won’t feel any sense of ownership over the plan and its goals and disengage from it.
It’s not unheard of to have passionate and visionary leaders with a well-crafted plan, while the rank-and-file employees are feeling completely cut off from the strategic process and don’t act according to it.
Connect daily tasks to outcomes
Sharing goals and objectives isn’t enough.
Every outcome must be paired with a set of clearly defined actions to achieve progress towards it. We use the word “actions” in a broader sense.
Exposing your strategy, going beyond the presentation of the new goals, and connecting actions with goals is what builds alignment. People’s daily tasks shouldn’t be disjointed from their teams’ goals.
It’s business-as-usual that people have to deal with in their work-life. When an employee has a newly defined goal to hit, he must include new actions in his day-to-day work to achieve that.
That means that he has to abandon some of his previous tasks to do that. That’s why it’s so important to figure out which actions contribute to the goal’s progression. It makes combating business-as-usual easier.
People are resistant to change. Especially when it means changing their behavior. Thus, they need strong indicators to remind them to incorporate the new goals into their daily tasks.
The urgent beats the important. That’s a damaging rule to the execution of the plan and difficult to overcome. It requires intentional effort. And part of that effort is coming up with the essential next steps and then sticking with them.
Strategy is executed when people’s actions are aligned with the outcomes.
Marc Benioff, when he created Salesforce, he also equipped the company with the V2MOM management process to create and maintain alignment.
He realized that the company’s Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures were a highly effective set for communication purposes.
At every level inside the organization, people and teams had to fill their own V2MOM, forcing them to consider how they align with the rest of the company. Through that process, they clarified their priorities and were able to build actionable plans.
People all around Salesforce were aligned with the company’s vision and strategy.
The greatest benefit of Cascade is its alignment capabilities. Every single project and goal can be connected with its parent objective, creating a powerful alignment chain throughout the plan. Everyone knows how their teams and projects are working together.
Define clear metric ownership
Build accountability from the top
Accountability is a driving force for the execution of any strategic initiative. Goals that nobody owns and tries to stay on top of won’t be achieved in time. They need a person to be accountable for them in order to drive progress.
When an organization isn’t accustomed to exposing its strategy, handling accountability carefully is vital.
The reason is that when certain goals are behind, the people responsible for them might get in trouble. Such an occurrence could destroy the morale of the team.
On the other hand, when nobody explicitly owns a project and is responsible for its fulfillment, it’s hard to track its progress and actually carry it out successfully. Outcomes won’t be delivered simply because nobody knew who was in charge of them.
Leadership has to walk a fine line. However, it is possible to build genuine accountability inside the organization while allowing people to make mistakes or fail. And one of the most important ways to achieve this is by having leadership setting the example.
Only when a leader admits his own mistakes and openly discusses his failures does he send the clearest and loudest message that his team members can do exactly the same.
Assigning metrics ownership removes execution barriers
Strategy exposure usually creates a new challenge. Your people start wondering whether it has to look perfect all the time.
This is a tough challenge, but not one that defeats the purpose of exposing your strategy as long as it is confronted.
Defining ownership for every project removes this uncertainty. The most effective way to build accountability is by assigning metrics, KPIs, and not goals to people.
That’s because what you wish to monitor is progress towards the outcome. People can’t report on goals and objectives. They report on progress. Therefore, set up suitable metrics and define one owner.
Be explicit about it — one owner or two co-owners at most. Then you can include as many collaborators as the project needs.
Having one person accountable for each metric frees the person to make the necessary decisions to drive that metric’s progress. She won’t have to waste any time trying to have one or two other people agree on her decision. It will also remove any ambiguity concerning her responsibilities.
When every piece of the plan is accounted for, a lot of the anxiety fades away and clarity spreads among the teams. Different departments understand how the actions of each other contribute to their common objectives. It becomes apparent who owns what, who is responsible for each task.
Everyone aligns, knows what the expectations are and how their project fits into the big picture. Therefore, people can focus on completing their projects.
In addition, when an outcome is achieved, owners feel proud about it, which increases their engagement and sense of fulfillment in their work.
Have exemplary accountable leadership and assign one owner to each metric.
3M is a company well known for its long line of innovative products. Most people have heard about its practice to foster creativity and innovation.
For example, 3M allows its employees to spend time working on any project they wish during their work hours. They can participate or develop any idea they find interesting.
However, this approach wouldn’t be functional if the company hadn’t developed a culture of accountability and ownership.
Projects and experiments fail quite often inside 3M, but people don’t lose their jobs over them. Instead, they own their missteps and learn from them.
Afterward, they archive their failed projects so others can learn from them or use them to solve other problems. The weak adhesive of post-it notes came out of a such failed experiment that people didn’t hide.
In the Cascade platform, every goal, project, or KPI has its owner and its contributors. It’s easy to assign ownership and build accountability in your organization when everyone knows exactly what they should be working on and what they’re accountable for.
Keep the big picture in mind
Context is as important as content
Changes in your strategic plan are inevitable. In your journey as an organization, you’ll test many things and learn what works and what fails. With that knowledge, you iterate and adjust your strategy.
In unpredictable scenarios, like a pandemic or BREXIT, don’t throw your arms in the air. Strategy still plays a crucial role in the survival and profitability of your organization in those cases.
Have your people adjust their daily tasks just as you adjust your strategic goals and objectives. Inform them about the new changes and communicate what’s expected of them.
Don’t restrict yourself to only sharing the decisions that came out of the strategic planning process, but the reasoning supporting them, as well. Provide both context and content.
That’s one of the most common mistakes leaders make when they try to communicate their strategy. They don’t provide context.
As a result, they don’t activate their people’s will to engage with their work and, therefore, with the strategy.
However, when people have access to the big picture, they can see how their actions connect with it. They feel they are an important part of the organization and end up devoted to it.
It might demand more effort on the part of the leadership to contextualize the decisions. Nonetheless, framing the modifications of your strategy and your people’s daily actions is more efficient in the long run and builds a stronger alignment cord.
Provide the context of your decisions.
Your vision fills the gap
A fantastic way to communicate the big picture to all the people in the organization is to connect the strategic plan to your organization’s vision.
Remind your people daily of your vision. Transform your offices into a powerhouse of reminders. Give your people the context they need when they make decisions and let them align on their own.
Being reminded of the vision and feeling that their work contributes to a bigger purpose motivates people and encourages them to work harder. They are more engaged and enjoy 66% higher well-being. They follow instructions and procedures intentionally and tend to misinterpret them less.
The knowledge that every decision fits inside a larger picture fuels alignment and the implementation of the plan. It’s easier to adopt new behavior and align with the plan when your actions and decisions support a common cause.
Give your people a view of the picture through your vision.
Pixar is famous for making its offices into powerhouses of reminders. Its people have big statues of their most iconic characters, posters, toys, and countless other stuff of every size inside their offices.
Their studios are constantly reminding the employees of their company’s vision which refreshes their passion and focus. Every time they have to make a decision, they know that they aim to tell exceptional and creative stories. They have a clear context.
Users of Cascade can view the overall plan of their companies and determine how their individual projects contribute to it. They see how they fit in and feel valued.
A quick summary
Many companies suffer from poor strategy implementation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Below, we have collected our guidelines on how to lead the successful execution of your strategic plan:
- Expose your strategy to all of your people
- Align your people’s daily actions with the desired outcomes
- Build accountability by assigning metric ownership
- Provide context to your strategy and align it with your vision
In our next article, we’ll discuss how to cultivate a culture of trust that values growth, transparency and incorporates your organization’s values.
If you want to build alignment in the execution of your strategy, book a demo with us.