Implementing corporate strategy is dependent upon the energy, dedication, hard work and faith of the organization’s employees. Motivating employees to act decisively in the face of uncertainty is a challenge where many an organization have failed miserably. Simply stated, a considerable amount of energy is required to drive strategies to fruition – and that energy must be generated from within the organization.
This article shares important guidance on the topic of generating, harnessing and channeling employee energy – factors with deep implications for any organization doing strategic planning.
So how can energy be generated to power the delivery of strategy? Many executives scratch their heads wondering what they can do within their organizations to motivate people so they will respond as needed when called upon during the tactical implementation cycle of a strategy roll-out.
Successful execution of strategy involves defining the many intricate and inter-related tasks of a strategic plan into manageable units of work that are assigned to the correct people to complete them successfully within the scheduled timeframe. That requires a massive effort on the communications front and a change management campaign to get everyone on board and energized. Yes, strategy implementation essentially has everything to do with energy.
In practical terms this means energizing and inspiring people to get them emotionally involved in the success of the organization’s strategic changes. In fact, a key aspect of the planning process is aligning communication with the business to ensure the strategy is executed. The CEO must serve as the strategy ambassador, getting everyone in the organization to fully believe that their actions are relevant to the accomplishment of the business’s mission and strategic objectives. This involvement includes all executive management, senior managers and employees; but it also extends to customers, vendors, partners, investors and even boards of directors. Organizations must communicate openly and honestly about their strategy in order to energize and motivate employees and to achieve buy-in to the company’s mission.
The more that employees have been involved in the process of creating the strategy, the more they will have already bought into it – helping fuel strategy delivery and thus propelling the momentum of execution to make it both easier and smoother. When it is not possible to broadly involve employees in some way, the communication effort surrounding the strategy needs to be amped up across the organization to compensate for the fact that many if not most employees will be in the dark regarding the strategy and what is expected of them.
Communicating Strategy With a Strategy
Communication always should be tailored to the audience. Without a solid understanding of your audience, you are not communicating – you are merely spewing information on them and hoping for the best. Deciding on what information will be shared about the business to employees means appreciating their level of understanding and planning appropriately according to the needs and capabilities of different employee segments. In a large multinational, the communication approach must address how you strike the right balance between global and local strategy and how you effectively balance local and corporate business priorities and vital issues. Even with the greatest amount of advance planning and research, there are still numerous challenges to communicating about the business to employees.
Most importantly in this regard, managers need to relay consistent and concise messaging to their employees so that the strategy feels real, achievable, applicable to their part of the company, and valuable to the customer. All employees should have a basic comprehension of the strategy’s salient points, what it means to them and why they should care and support it. They also must understand how success will be measured. Do not stifle objections to the strategy, if they come up. It is important that open discussions with employees are conducted to help them be valued members of the process.
Harnessing Employee Energy
Organizations sometimes make the mistake of spelling out every detail for employees related to “how” to execute strategy. Executives should not dictate every aspect of of how strategy should be executed. The issue with this approach is that it eliminates the employee’s need to think about how to go about accomplishing the goals; diminishing their sense of ownership and dampening their energy.
A key tactic to harnessing energy from the organization’s employees involves defining and communicating an unambiguous vision and set of targets for the strategy, while leaving “how” the goals and targets will be achieved to be decided within operations. Specificity related to strategy and goals makes this job of interpreting appropriate actions easier for frontline employees because they more fully understand what the organization needs to accomplish and can bring their own domain knowledge to the table to help solve the execution puzzle.
A bi-directional planning model is an elegant way to bring operations into the planning process and involve lower-level managers and front-line employees. Simply stated, a bi-directional planning approach is top-down / bottom-up. Executive leaders set strategy, goals and measures, but involve lower levels of the organization in operational planning to map out execution. Involving line-level managers and employees in operational planning means asking them: “How can we achieve our objectives?” This question will likely uncover fresh thoughts and new approaches to execution that senior management hadn’t thought of.
Channel Energy Through Core Values
With the involvement of lower-levels of the organization in planning execution, does that raise concerns about the decisions they may make? Not if the business has well-defined core values in place to steer employees towards doing the right things right.
Execution of strategy will be carried out by the organization’s employees, that is the only option. Therefore, organizational leaders need their employees prepared and empowered to act as their proxy, serving as delegates of the business as decisions are made and actions are taken related to strategy execution. Lower-level managers and employees must be allowed and trusted to step in to make choices, decisions and commitments for the organization. Organizational core values will help guide their actions so that employees make the right decisions, especially when the choice pits stakeholder interests against each other.
Core values are best understood when they have been communicated through stories that provided examples of employees using values to make decisions aligned with the strategy. Managers should take opportunities in staff meetings, over coffee or during weekly one-on-ones to tell those stories.
If the value system is weak in the organization, it must be reenforced through the communications plan and the business’s training and development programs. Reminders of the strategy, strategic goals and organization’s core values should be everywhere to help reinforce the communications machine. Employees must feel a part of the strategy and have internalized what the business’s values really mean as they apply them to execute the strategic plan.
Principles to Remember
- Understand the energy strategy implementation will require from the organization
- Plan communications about strategy carefully, planning messaging for each segment of the business
- Involve your frontline employees in strategy creation when possible
- Ask for input about how the company can achieve its goals
- Share stories about employees who used values to guide strategic decisions
- Communicate information that is meaningless to the audience
- Be overly specific about how to execute the strategy
- Communicate the strategy without explaining how success is measured
- Stifle objections to the strategy