Why Strategy Presentations Don't Work: What To Do Instead

by Christos Mitsis, on Sep 29, 2021 11:34:24 AM

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All organizations recognize the importance of communicating their strategy to their people. However, few do a very good job on it. That’s evident in companies’ inability to execute their strategy.

The common approach to strategy communication includes a day or two of live events with strategy presentations and discussions on the new strategy. After that, little happens beyond some conversations around the strategy.

Maybe some teams adjust their projects and focus to meet the new requirements, maybe not. There is no consistency nor a significant difference in how people are operating.

The issue is that strategy presentation is an approach to communicating the organization’s strategy to the workforce passively, with little engagement. That’s an inherently problematic approach to communication.

In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • The necessity of communicating your strategy well
  • The problems of strategy presentations as a communication approach
  • How to properly use the strategy presentation approach
  • Strategy Exposure: bringing bottom-up energy to strategy communication

The necessity of communicating your strategy well

Communicating the organization’s strategy to its people is not a one-time event nor a luxurious convenience. It’s a necessary condition for the successful implementation of the strategic plan.

It includes a series of actions and practices that must be incorporated into the organization’s habits and culture. Presenting the strategy is just one of them.

There is one single principle to remember when it comes to the execution of your strategy:

Your people will execute the strategy.

It’s all about them. They need to understand it. They need to engage with it. They need to trust it. The need to rely on it to make decisions.

Why is this important? Why do people need to believe, trust and inform their decisions from their organization’s strategy? Let’s see an example.

When The Walt Disney Company expanded its branded content in the early 2000s, it introduced three clear guidelines to protect the Disney brand from diluting:

  1. No bad language
  2. No sexual content
  3. No gratuitous violence

These guidelines give concise and actionable information to everyone. People can use them to make decisions that will simultaneously expand the Disney brand without hurting it.

Strategy presentations don’t live in a vacuum. They are useful, but they can’t, and shouldn’t, shoulder the weight of communicating the strategic plan to the people who will execute it.

If strategic presentations are the only actions in your communication approach of strategy, then they’re just a communication patch. They have no real effect. Or even worse, they have damaging effects.

💡No strategy can be executed if it’s not well understood by the people.

The problems of strategy presentations as a communication approach

Destroys the company’s culture

Strategy presentations are a bad idea because the relationship between people and the organization’s senior leadership is treated as a one-way street. It provides a rigid set of instructions that doesn’t account for people's struggles at the front. It completely disregards their feedback, sending a message of indifference.

That shows a lack of empathy and the necessary conditions to create trust and buy-in from the employees.

As a result, there isn’t any guarantee that the new strategy will be executed. Maybe, if strategy isn’t going against the currently established culture, it will be implemented. But if it clashes with culture, then it will remain an inapplicable plan.

As Peter Drucker said,

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

The problem occurs before the presentation. It’s developed at the start of the strategic conversations, where people are not a part of. That’s where the seed of the issue is planted.

Specifically, excluding your people from the discussions on the company’s direction shows a disregard for their feedback. As a result, people feel like the leadership doesn’t trust them and they disengage from the process.

Customer-facing employees have valuable insight to offer on what works and what doesn’t. At the very least, they know where most friction is in the customer’s journey.

For example, a hospital needs to increase its customer experience and satisfaction. A significant part of it is the patient’s food. Because it heavily impacts the perception the patient has for his care.

Let’s say that the food is usually delivered cold. If the nurses are excluded from the discussions, the hospital will never learn that and lose a great opportunity to improve its services.

Additionally, when people don’t contribute to strategy formulation, they don’t feel invested in it and have no incentive to execute it. They lose the sense that their work matters or that their effort is being noticed.

Sharing a PowerPoint file filled with strategic initiatives, projections, goals, and metrics doesn’t invite people’s attention or interest.

Besides, strategy presentations can’t include all the plan details since it would take days to go through them all. Focusing only on certain aspects of the business and excluding others might also create content.

For example, if current projects that people are working on aren’t mentioned or are suddenly shut down, people will get discouraged.

Presenting big changes and asking for feedback AFTER the strategy is formulated is a terrible communications approach.

💡Strategy presentations create a gap between leadership and the workforce. 

Doesn’t keep up with today’s demands

In today’s rapidly changing world, no company can survive having a stagnant strategy. Consequently, companies that want to lead in their industry have to constantly adapt their strategy.

On that front, the issue with strategy presentations is that they rely on static tools to display the information. Those tools can’t cope with the complexity and the iterative nature of modern strategic processes.

Companies face intense external pressure to constantly adapt their strategies to the ever-changing customer behavior. As a result, they constantly evaluate their strategic performance and progress. This, in turn, leads to constant internal change.

Traditional tools for managing and tracking the strategy’s performance fail to serve the iterative process of assessment and adjustment. Keeping those static files up to date becomes impossible since, by the time they’re updated, the information is outdated again.

Even when specialized tools are used to facilitate specific strategic processes, like reporting and presenting the data, the result is more friction. That’s because the overall strategic management becomes more complex, involving more tools.

Collecting the correct version of the files on time becomes a challenge and takes time. Organizations that don’t demonstrate flexibility in their strategic processes are unable to unlock their adaptive capabilities.

No matter how customizable Excel sheets and PowerPoint slides are, they’re not made for rapid modifications and efficient reporting. They are horribly ineffective in modern strategic processes.

💡Modern strategy management can’t rely on static documents to be dynamic and adjustable.

Forces a choice between accuracy and clarity

A massive file that explains in great detail the strategic plan fails on (at least) one of the following two fronts: accuracy and clarity.

A typical strategic plan has several structural levels. At its highest levels, it includes the company’s most ambitious aspirations, like its focus areas. At its lowest levels, it includes the projects that teams and individuals pursue to bring those aspirations to life.

Connecting those two distant levels using slides and sheets is extremely difficult. Doing it in a comprehensive way that any member of the workforce can use is a fool’s errand in today’s world.

We have seen slides that packed so much information they put digital device manuals to shame. Do you think that employees used them to inform their decisions in their day-to-day workload? We know they didn’t.

If such tools aim to offer employees guidelines in their decisions, then they fail remarkably. Navigating through such complex files defeats that purpose by wasting too much time. And in the end, the information is probably out of date.

And as if that’s not enough, while the size of a corporation increases, the complexity of the information exponentially increases as well. Tools like Excel and PowerPoint are stretched to their limit to structure and represent that information comprehensively. Even then, people find it difficult to use them to inform their daily activities and guide them.

On the other hand, if a strategy presentation is optimized for clarity, it hardly has any useful information for the employees to incorporate the new strategy in their daily actions.

Even the sexiest slides fail to attract people’s attention to engage with them. They are treated like old magazine issues, dumbed somewhere for later use until their information becomes obsolete a few weeks later.

Presenting a strategy using static tools can’t fulfill people’s need for accurate and comprehensible directions.

How to properly use the strategy presentation approach

Strategy presentations have their own place and time to be useful. While they fail to provide sustainable context to people’s daily decisions, they are excellent for announcing a significant shift in the company's direction.

For example, Bob Iger, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, during his 15-year-long tenure, developed a method for communicating the company’s strategy to its hundreds of thousands of employees and stakeholders.

He called it “management by press release” method. At a few times during his tenure, Iger would announce his intentions as the head of the company publicly and very decisively.

Because of his strong conviction, his message would resonate inside the company as well. People would feel the determination of the leadership and commit to that train of thought.

Of course, this method isn’t an exhaustive or elaborate presentation of the company’s strategy. It does, though, articulate clearly and powerfully the leadership’s intention.

However, Bob Iger didn’t rely on one announcement to change the company’s direction and its employees’ actions. Disney had (and has) other internal channels and practices to align its people to its strategic objectives.

That's the only role that strategic presentations can play in a communication approach. They can present the intention of the corporation’s leadership to spark the people’s commitment to it.

Strategy Exposure: bringing bottom-up energy to strategy communication

Your people’s goals and daily actions will rarely derive directly from the strategic initiatives of your plan. That’s not how strategy works. Ideally, though, your strategic plan offers context for the decision-making process.

There is only one thing that you need to remember concerning the communication of your strategy:

It’s never enough.

We can’t overstate how important this is. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have “finished” communicating your strategy. It’s not a project that has a completion point. It’s an ongoing process that needs constant engagement.

For your people to be comfortable with the strategic plan, you need to treat its communication like a muscle.

The more you exercise it, the better it will perform. But if you get complacent and stop exercising, because it’s performing well at the moment, then it will atrophy.

The most efficient way to do that is by making the strategic plan available to your people at all times. Not with static tools. They become outdated too fast.

You need to modernize it by transforming your strategy digitally. Bring it into a dynamic digital platform capable of handling all of the strategic processes. Platforms like Cascade solve a lot of the problems that traditional static tools create.

Strategy visibility drives alignment

Exposing your strategic plan to your workforce means going beyond building exhaustively detailed excel files. It means allowing your people constant access to it.

It means you enable them to actively engage with it and challenge it productively.

You achieve two things that way.

Firstly, you strongly indicate that you trust your people with that information. You demonstrate your conviction that your people know how to use the information in your strategic plan and you empower them to do so.

Secondly, you enable your people to align their daily actions with your strategy. People can now inform their decisions and adjust their projects according to the direction the company is headed.

This is one of the strongest benefits that the exposure of your strategy provides. It eliminates siloed teams and departments, unifying the company towards a shared direction.

The company doesn’t move like a fractured organization anymore. Its people recognize their role in the execution of the plan and how their work contributes to it. In other words, alignment occurs naturally and quickly.

You don’t have to take your Excel sheets on a multiple-weeks-long trip around the company to make sure everyone is aligned anymore.

The plan is visible to your people and the execution happens methodically. Every single person understands how the different pieces of the strategic plan tie together. The priorities are apparent or at least much easier to communicate in the context of strategy.

At the same time, it’s easier for your people to initiate discussions around the current objectives and goals to challenge them. This creates a deeper understanding of strategy while at the same time fine-tunes it.

💡Clear visibility builds alignment in the execution of the strategic plan.

A single source of truth for your strategy

Getting out of static tools and into dynamic, powerful digital platforms unlocks the adaptive capabilities of the organization. Why?

Because performing all of the essential strategic processes in a digital environment, like exposing, managing and tracking removes all of the friction traditional tools create.

Instead of having two, three, or more (oh my god!) tools for all those processes, you have one single source of truth. A digital home for your strategy.

A single place for your strategy to live enables collaboration between your people. They can not only manage the projects they own but also contextualize them relatively to their colleague’s projects.

Duplicate projects are detected early and fewer resources and time are wasted trying to get a good overview of the organization’s plan.

A digital transformation of your strategy creates more efficient communication practices. The bottom-up flow of information becomes less obstructed.

Strategy transparency drives accountability

One of the main reasons you need your people to understand and have a deep understanding of the company’s strategy is to drive accountability.

No project, no matter how big or small, will overcome the barriers in its execution if nobody is accountable for its progress.

For example, imagine a company where the c-level leadership team is working siloed. Every executive builds his plan independently with each other with no communication or overview.

How can they be accountable for the success of their plans? It would be impossible to align the company towards a shared direction.

No matter how much experience or talent there is in the c-suite, the company can’t utilize it unless it presents a unifying front.

This is how exposing the strategic plan enables its disciplined execution. It creates transparency.

Organizations with transparent strategic plans develop habits that reinforce accountability and alignment. They break down communication barriers and connect their teams through regular reporting meetings.

💡Access all your strategy information from one place and make it transparent.

Key Takeaways

The execution and performance of your strategy rely on your people. Communicating the plan just before it goes live doesn’t work. Strategy communication requires ongoing organizational habits and processes. Strategy presentations can’t possibly amend for the lack of such practices.

Here are the key takeaways from this article:

  • Strategy presentations as a communication approach are destructive, outdated, and ineffective in today’s world.
  • Strategy presentations should only be used to communicate the strategic intentions.
  • Expose your strategy through a dynamic, digital home.
  • Create alignment through strategy visibility.
  • Create accountability through strategy transparency.

Cascade provides a digital home for your strategy. Ditch your excel documents and bring all of your strategic plans in one place.

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