Gather all the employees in a room filled with music and flashing PowerPoint presentations. Parade smiling, cheerleading managers across the stage. Speak of all the hard work, time and effort put into creating what is now the "MOST AMAZING THING THIS COMPANY HAS EVER DONE!"
Aaaaand... cue the collective eye roll from the audience.
We've all sat through and led these company-wide pep rallies, deeply hoping that all the pizzazz will prompt excitement and commitment to the cause. Someone may even say that this is "the defining moment" for our future. If it's not that grand it may just be a critical "inflection point"... whatever an inflection point is.
Most of the time, it's just a show with little substance. More than half of leadership teams don't even believe in their own company strategies or their people's ability to execute them.
Somewhere between 60 percent and just about all corporate strategies ever conceived aren't executed as intended. Employees are physically there, glassy-eyed, thinking: thanks for the new company logoed squishy stress ball, but I don't really get what you're trying to do here or how I am a part of it.
Look out for these four ways your strategy can get stuck, and try these tips to help move things along:
1. When you launch a strategy in one big BOOM
Get unstuck by nurturing your strategy instead.
The key is creating an inhale and exhale between the creators and the executors of the strategy. Strategy is not a democracy, but every engagement changes the thinking behind a strategy just like no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.
High performers nurture their strategies instead of just assuming people will know what to do. They make sure everyone understands how their work will impact the company as a whole. This should be an ongoing conversation sustained over a lengthy period of time--not just a big shiny company meeting with lights and theatrics.
High performers make it safe for their people to experience some failure along the way, help them understand what they could learn from failure, demonstrate what success looks like and celebrate little wins along the way. Nurturing also work both ways in that listening to the front lines surfaces the tweaks to the strategy that make it even better.
2. When you assume people know their roles
Get unstuck by making sure everyone knows their part.
There is often a disconnect between a new strategy and most people's daily routines. The most common refrain from people when asked about a new strategy is, "I have no clue what I need to do and what I need to do different"!
Without a clear purpose and knowing how their roles help deliver or support the big picture and grand outcome, your employees can't effectively drive your strategy. You need to connect the dots between strategy and the actual job people are charged with doing every day.
3. When you paralyze people's decision making ability
Get unstuck by clearing up the paradox of accountability.
People are typically either in one of two camps when it comes to decisions at work:
- The "not my problem" camp (they don't go beyond the computer screen in front of them).
- The "decision by committee" camp (which either gives them no voice in decisions at all or enables them to hide behind the group).
You need a balance between collaboration and accountability for employees to understand and execute on their role in the strategy.
Few companies have truly figured out the right balance of collaboration and accountability. They either get nothing done or their people only do what they're being incentivized to do.
They never step back to look at the long view or how they could better support other initiatives across the business. Most strategy breakdowns occur in the so called "east-west" direction, which means the gray areas between department, functions and units.
When you have open discussion on shared responsibilities and effective feedback loops, people can understand what they're responsible for, own their parts and own the outcomes of their work (and how it is used in partnership with others).
4. When you assume you're all speaking the same language
Get unstuck by speaking the language employees understand.
Sometimes strategy authors and creators are so close to what they're crafting that they can't see the forest through the trees anymore. When leaders assume that everyone understands their lingo, a lot can get lost in translation.
Organizations tend to use leadership jargon "shop talk" instead of the "street talk" necessary for people to process effectively.
The best organizations are the ones that empathize with their people and create materials in a language and tone that's familiar and easy to digest. If your strategy resonates with your people, they can then prioritize, interpret, simplify and act.