How do I communicate strategy?

In my prior article I wrote about the 5 things that you can do to help move your strategy to action.  We appreciate all of the feedback that we received and in response to our readers’ requests I will elaborate the first of the 5 points.

One of the things that are critical to stress is that as leaders we must understand that implementing a strategy requires also managing a change.  Those who do not heed this advice must do so with caution.   What does this mean?  When we embark on designing a vision of the future, possibly re-aligning the future course of our organization this by its nature will bring about change.

We cannot believe that setting a new course, objectives or direction will not create a transition and change within the organization.    We are told that it is critical as a leader to be able to lead change, and that it is a must have competency.  So why do so many leaders fail at leading change?

In the process of defining a strategy what are the driving forces that a leader can use to lead through the change?

In the last article I noted that one of the key steps to strategy execution is the following:

Create a communication and engagement strategy:How to effectively communicate your corporate strategic plan to your organization.

This means that you clearly define how you will communicate the vision and strategy, who will deliver the message (and it can be several credible senders), when we will deliver the message (and it cannot only be once!!), and what forums we will create to get input and feedback.   Without input and dialogue we cannot have engagement and without engagement we cannot have commitment to execute.

So as a leader what is my role and what are my actions to ensure effective engagement and communication? 

  • Create forums (such as town halls, lunch and share, coffee and chats, etc) for input and engagement: Leaders must first of all not be afraid of collaboration and input.  The old style of “we as managers know best” is no longer the way of cutting edge organizations.   In today’s world employees will not tolerate simply being told what to do.

Yes, leaders are expected to set a vision and give people something compelling to follow but that is not their only role.  Leaders must be ready and willing to hear what people have to say and create space for reciprocal exchanges.

The old method of cascading information (from top to the next level of management and downward from there) is proving to not be effective and doesn’t bring about the commitment and engagement that is required.

Why does cascading a message not work?  According to a recent HBR article by Galunic and Hermreck they have found the following reasons for which cascades aren’t effective:

  • Only top leaders can give strategic communications the appropriate weight
  • Strategy involves trade-offs, which are more easily accepted when put into a broad perspective without filters
  • As in the game of telephone, messages passed from person to person seldom arrive intact.

 

Allowing information, input and feedback to flow in two directions is a major key to a successful implementation.  The second critical piece is to ensure that we are not paying lip service to people’s input and feedback.  Do not ask for feedback if you have no intention of using any of it.  Even if you cannot or will not use any input you must communicate back to all stakeholders as to why comments or feedback were or were not rolled into the overall plan.

Do not play people for fools.  If you are asking only to say you asked, you are better off not asking at all!!

 Top reasons why leaders resist the engagement and buy-in process:

  • Perception that this type of process takes too much time.  It is easier and faster to just get a few senior people in the room and then tell the organization what they will have to do (that’s if we remember to communicate anything at all)

Yes, it may be true that it will take more time but would you rather go slow to later go fast or would you rather go fast to then go slow or possibly nowhere at all?

  • If you ask too many people you will get too many differing opinions.

While this may be true, if you have a well-defined process for your engagement strategy you will build into your process a way by which people converge onto similar directions, goals and ideas.  The process will only be chaotic if you do not build it right.

  • Lack of experience working with collaborative processes and staying with what is known and comfortable.

Although comfort is fantastic in certain circumstances, it is not by staying in your comfort zone that you will stretch yourself as a leader nor will you challenge your organization to move into new and exciting directions.

Where do I go from here?

Work with trusted advisors (either internal or external to your organization) to help you design, deliver and facilitate a strategy for success.  Ultimately, regardless of who may support you in creating effective engagement and communication strategies, as a leader it is your role to stay close and connected to your workforce.

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