Employees Must Understand Strategy to Implement It

by: Patricia den Boer

A challenge for anyone who sets strategy – be it for a division or an entire company – is to help the people on the ground relate to the strategy and understand what they need to do differently to implement it. Getting this right is crucial since the success of any strategy depends on all employees doing their bit. Yet many companies we work with struggle to connect the dots between thirty-thousand-foot strategy and day-to-day actions. Bridging this gap by effectively communicating strategy helps employees make decisions and do work that contributes to the success of your strategy.

This is more than an exercise in marketing communications. If employees don’t understand what they must do differently to implement your strategy, chances are it will run into trouble. So, don’t keep them guessing! It starts with a standardized strategy framework with which to communicate the core tenets of your strategy. In addition to providing consistent firm-wide messaging, a visual framework and an accompanying story or “narrative” about your future vision will help employees understand the company’s strategy and connect it to their own tasks.

3 Steps to Communicating Strategy

Your entire management team must be committed to using these tools to communicate a consistent message to the right audiences, at the right time and the right intervals throughout the strategy period. Here are three key steps to get you on the right track:

  1. Gather strategy-related information: During the strategic planning process, keep a record of how you developed your strategy that will be relevant to employees. This might include anecdotes, challenges you struggled with, how you came to conclusions, etc. This background is often related to organizational priorities and business context that your teams can understand. It enables you to relate the effects of the changes articulated in your strategy on things like employee workflows and behaviors. By putting yourself in your employees’ shoes you’ll have something they’ll listen to – and do!
  2. Create a learning “narrative”: Remember that your employees haven’t been involved in your lengthy strategic thought process. So you need to bring them up to speed. Structure the different areas of information from broad (market context, organizational goals) to narrow (what it means for employee workflows, behaviors) to build a truly compelling story for employees.  With this foundational understanding of the strategy, employees can draw personal connections to their work and the changes you want to see.
  3. Use visual graphics to tell the story: Create a standardized, visual storyboard to communicate the strategy narrative across the organization. When building the storyboard, consider different factors – the content (snappy headlines, supporting information), the type of graphics (easy-to-understand process or relationship diagrams), and the design elements (imagery, icons, colors, your company’s brand elements) – that best tell your strategy story.

And perhaps the most important piece of advice is, don’t wait! Start communicating early, even before your strategy is rubber-stamped. Your employees will feel more part of the process and thank you in spades with their buy-in. Who knows, they might also have some good ideas to contribute along the way!

Patricia den Boer works with leadership teams to uncover and address the barriers in communication between senior management and their teams. She has developed a proven process for communicating strategy and is the author of Stratford Managers’ Tactical Playbook for Communicating Corporate Strategy. If you have questions or would like to know how Patricia can ignite your strategy communications, please email patricia.denboer@stratfordmanagers.com .

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