Want to Know Why Strategic Plans Fail to Inspire Employee Confidence?
The average employee in the average workplace has no confidence that his or her senior leadership team knows where they are going. Nor, does the average employee have faith and confidence that the executive team is choosing the right strategic direction. Both of these statements came from a recent PR pitch.
My reaction? Although there are exceptions, I don't think that most organizations lack strategic direction.
I also don't believe that the average executive team fails to plan, fails to set a reasonable direction, or fails to pick appropriate products to sell or markets to pursue.
The fact that, in general, businesses continues to operate, attract customers and make a profit tells me that the executive team is leading the organization. So why the disparity between what employees believe and what is actually happening in the business?
What the Executive Team Fails to Do
What the executive team fails to do is to effectively communicate the strategic direction and plans throughout the organization. The team comes back from a planning retreat and announces changes and new direction to the management team. Then, the executives expect the managers to disperse the new information and changes throughout the organization to their teams.
In my experience, this doesn’t work. Managers leave the communication meeting with a partial understanding of the direction and changes. They also have varying degrees of skill in their ability to communicate.
Unless the executive team is unusually skilled at communication, the managers lack the context for the changes.
They don't understand the implications of the changes for their work. And, these are the employees the executives depend on to communicate changes. But, the senior team bears the brunt of the blame for the communication problems.
The Most Important Part of Communication
The senior team usually skips the why, the rationale for the strategic direction, which is the most important part for employee understanding. Without this context, even when the executive group holds all company meetings to communicate direction and needed changes to every employee, the message doesn’t reach all staff.
This is not communicating - just telling or announcing. At least, it is not communicating at a level necessary for employees to integrate the strategic direction and plans into their job and activities at work. And, this is where the biggest failure in the implementation of a strategic plan occurs.
Communicate Strategic Direction to Employees Individually
My thoughts about how to communicate strategic direction and plans have been pooh-poohed at more than one strategic planning session. I don't think that managers understand how critically important communicating the direction at the level of an individual's job is to organization-wide understanding of strategic direction.
After the whole company meeting, the managers need to hold department meetings to further clarify plans and direction. These smaller meetings allow employees to ask questions and relate the new direction to their department’s goals and direction.
Following these smaller meetings, the managers must meet with each reporting employee and review the goals and strategic direction and work with the employee to answer the question, "What does this mean for my job and my goals?" Individual performance development planning makes the perfect implementation practice for this level of deep communication.
Following the individual meetings, executives must follow-up, communicate wins and losses, and allow individual teams to communicate, communicate, communicate.
The Big Win: Employee Alignment
If the plans and direction are communicated well, I'll bet that employees have few concerns about their organization's strategic direction. The employees experience alignment with it, one of the factors that's been identified as a key differentiator of a high performance organization. Wouldn't you like to be a high performance organization?
Communicate your strategic direction and plans so that employees hear you. They need the context and the why. They need to see where changes and plans fit in with their department's goals and plans.
Most importantly, they need to deeply integrate their expected value add, what the changes mean for how they do their jobs.
If the executive team can communicate effectively to the managers and employees, you won't hear that your employees have no confidence in the senior leadership team. Your employees will know that you know where you are going and they will have faith and confidence that the executive team is choosing the right strategic direction.
More About Strategic Direction