Communicating about the organization’s strategy is one of the jobs of the CEO, and it is an important one. After all, clearly defining the direction of an organization and why is at the heart of a leader’s role. The CEO’s job of communicating strategy should not be all focused on external messaging, however. This article addresses how leaders can establish their communications platform around a strategy architecture that keeps messaging on point, helping focus strategy execution and strengthen organizational culture by aligning employees behind the corporate strategic mission, goals and core values.
Employees are often starved of adequate information related to strategy. Quite often, employees one or two levels down from the CEO have little knowledge about the strategy or what they can do to help with its successful execution.
“We are going in this direction and not that one”
“This is our purpose, not that”
These simple statements from a leader help define a company’s identity, direction and purpose. Yet communications related to strategy are too often masked in vague terms or shrouded in secrecy. Crisp communication about strategy from business leaders brings clarity to the minds of employees, customers and shareholders.
Communicate the Strategic Architecture
The CEO must be the person to champion the communications initiative surrounding strategy. The channels used to communicate are less important here than the content delivered.
Think about corporate strategy as having an architecture that starts with organizational core values as the foundation. The pillars of the architecture are the key outcomes the strategy seeks to accomplish. Holding the pillars in place are the mission of the organization, capped with the vision. This architecture should be the basis of strategy communications, touching on each element at every communication opportunity.
Usage of the strategy architecture in communications will help structure a more meaningful message and tie the components of the strategic plan together for employees to understand, emotionally connect with and act upon to execute.
Let’s now examine each part of the architecture in more detail and look at some examples.
The old adage, “stand for something or fall for anything” applies in business as well. Every organization should define core values that form the basis of the corporate culture and keystones of the strategy. As such, they should be incorporated into strategy-related communication plans targeted to employees.
Suppose an organization has a “Teamwork” theme as a core value. The core value should be “headlined” for communication purposes, then explained in a way that demonstrates expected behaviors and outcomes.
For instance, the core value theme for “Teamwork” could be stated as:
“We work collaboratively with one another, our clients, vendors and partners to understand their perspectives and build long-term, beneficial and respectful relationships.”
In another example, Whole Foods says the following about one of their core values, “Caring About Our Communities & Our Environment”:
“We support organic farmers, growers and the environment through our commitment to sustainable agriculture and by expanding the market for organic products.”
What does this mean? Well, the company goes further to elaborate on this value by saying the following:
“Wise Environmental Practices
We respect our environment and recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste wherever and whenever we can.
We recognize our responsibility to be active participants in our local communities. We give a minimum of 5% of our profits every year to a wide variety of community and non-profit organizations.
Integrity In All Business Dealings
Our trade partners are our allies in serving our stakeholders. We treat them with respect, fairness and integrity at all times and expect the same in return.”
In this example, Whole Foods Markets has headlined their core values so that their employees can become familiar with the organization’s basic beliefs. They have also explained behavioral expectations and offered further detail serving to anchor elements of the organization’s strategy and goals to a strong cultural foundation.
Mission and Strategy / Key Outcome Statements
Alignment between mission and strategy statements is critical, so let’s examine these together.
First, a mission statement should define the organization’s purpose and primary objectives. Its prime function is internal – to define the key measure or measures of the organization’s success. The mission statement should be incorporated into strategy communications to link mission and strategy in the minds of employees.
A shell mission statement might look like this:
“Our mission is to _____ for our _______accomplished by _____ and ____.”
Let’s look at Target’s mission statement as an example and then break it down into parts.
Target’s Mission: “Our mission is to make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise.”
What are the key elements?
- Market Served: economy and quality minded shoppers
- Contribution: exceptional guest experience
- Distinction: outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently offering more for less
Like a mission statement, a strategy statement simply summarizes the organization’s direction based on expected contributions to be made to specific markets and distinguished by certain advantages held by the organization. Strategy statements help succinctly explain the strategy in a “sound bite” fashion.
We looked at Target’s mission statement as an example, so let’s see what a strategy statement “shell” for one of Target’s brands might look like. Given the mission statement above, the strategy statement might be constructed as follows:
“Our strategy is to _____ by offering _____, at a cost that brings value to
our customers unmatched by our competition through ___ and ____.”
Note the alignment of elements in the mission and strategy:
Contribution = “What do we do?”
Market Served = “Who are our customers?”
Distinction = “How do we do what we do better than our competitors?”
Vision statements, often confused or used interchangeably with mission statements, also define the organizations purpose – but they should do so in terms of the organization’s core values rather than bottom line measures. A Vision statement by definition is something you want to become, to achieve. The vision should paint a seductive image of an ideal future. For employees, it gives direction about how they are expected to behave and inspires them to give their best. Shared with customers, it shapes customers’ understanding of why they should work with the organization.
A shell vision statement might look like this:
“Our vision is to excel in _______ accomplished by _____ and driven by ___ and ____.”
To illustrate vision statements, two examples are provided below:
GM’s vision statement:
“GM’s vision is to be the world leader in transportation products and related services. We will earn our customers’ enthusiasm through continuous improvement driven by the integrity, teamwork, and innovation of GM people.”
Alcoa’s vision statement:
“At Alcoa, our vision is to be the best company in the world–in the eyes of our customers, shareholders, communities and people. We expect and demand the best we have to offer by always keeping Alcoa’s values top of mind.”
Chief executives must effectively communicate to employees about the organization’s strategy. Usage of the strategy architecture will help structure a more meaningful message and tie the components of the strategic plan together for employees to understand, emotionally connect with and act upon to execute. The strategy architecture is based on organizational core values as the foundation and contains strategy key outcome statements as well the mission and vision statements of the organization.