Center for Simplified Strategic Planning

Translating Vision Into Action: 8 Steps to Communicate Your Strategy

Paul A.S. Minton

Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, thinks that winning companies fully engage all of their people. John Seeger, Jr., CEO of Dayton Rogers Manufacturing, wants both the hearts and minds of everyone at his firm. Both executives seek to unleash the creativity and energy of their employees in support of the overall course and direction of the enterprise.

Strategic success comes not simply from crafting sound strategy and implementation plans. Both are essential ingredients, but results come from activities that people engage in. Your people can only deliver good strategic results if you ensure that they align their actions closely with the course and direction, implementation plans, and priorities established in your strategic planning process.

You will make a major leap toward strategic success by following these eight steps to communicate your strategy:

Step 1: Gather the Raw Material
You already have all the raw material you need to communicate your strategy in the Simplified Strategic Planning manual. The worksheets on Strategies (page 5.4) and Objectives (page 6.3) are central. Industry Scenario (page 4.7), Winner’s Profile (page 4.8), Strategic Assessment (page 5.1), Strategic Issues (page5.2), Mission Statement (page 6.1), Goals (page 6.2), and Action Plans (page 7.x) contain additional detailed or supporting information.

You will refer to these worksheets in several steps of the communications process.

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Step 2: Identify Who Needs to Act
In most organizations, every employee plays some role in implementing strategic vision. At different levels, these people need to understand what the strategy is, what they are supposed to do, and what they are not supposed to do. Often, employees fall into two or three groups that differ in a variety of attributes. Most management teams have little difficulty separating their internal audiences into a small number of groups along lines such as:

Usually, groups that differ in the type of work they do, their authority, experience, or sophistication require different types of communication for best results.

In addition, in many businesses, success depends on the actions of other critical stakeholders. Some examples are owners, boards of directors, securities analysts, bankers, investors, attorneys, customers, suppliers, strategic allies, and even competitors. You must identify whether the firm needs to elicit certain actions from such third parties.

When you complete this step, you have identified a small number (say, two to four) of distinct audiences for which you will craft communications approaches.

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Step 3: List Results and Actions You Want From Others
If people are going to do what you want, you have to tell them. The two most common complaints of workers about their leaders are that they are not sure exactly what the leaders want from them and how well they are doing it. You address the first issue in this step; we address the other in Step 8.

Review Strategies (page 5.4) and Objectives (page 6.3) while you think about each audience you identified in Step 2. List the results and actions for which the group will be responsible.

Then, review Strategic Issues (page 5.2), Mission Statement (page 6.1), and Goals (page 6.2) to identify any additional results and actions you need to add to your list for each group.

At the end of this step, you know specifically each group’s responsibilities.

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Step 4: Decide What Information Each Group Needs to Have
Different groups require different information to understand what they are supposed to do. Typically, managers must know the “what and why” of the firm’s strategy to make proper decisions at various points in the future, since they deal with fundamentally uncertain and ambiguous situations. In contrast, more task-oriented workers need to know “who, how, and when,” often only with regard to their specific areas.

Mission Statement and Goals contain the minimum “big picture” information that all of your audiences will need to understand. If a particular audience also needs to have a context for the direction these worksheets provide, extract it from the Industry Scenario and Winner’s Profile.

For the audiences that need more richness on the “big picture,” turn to the Strategic Assessment, Strategies, and Objectives. The Strategic Assessment presents the relative attractiveness of your various market segments and opportunities with your relative competitive position in each.

From Strategies you can present the market strategies (Expand, Maintain, Contract, Milk, and Withdraw) and competitive strategies (specialty or commodity; mass market or niche market) for each Core Business segment (part B). You should also present any major new sources of revenue (part C) as well as the changes you will make internally (part E).

Objectives informs your audience of the major initiatives you are undertaking in the first phase of implementation.

For the audiences that need more specific information on “who, how, and when,” you will find the appropriate material on specific topics in Strategic Issues and Action Plans.

You may also want to present some audiences with information on the strategic planning process and the monitoring process. This information is in the Planning Schedule (page 9.3) and Monitoring Schedule (page 9.4).

At the end of this step, you will have developed one or two levels of “big picture” information and you may have a set of specific, more narrow, action-oriented information for each audience.

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Step 5: Develop a Communications Approach for Each Audience
People have different communications styles and approaches to learning. Your message must be crafted to get through to the recipient, not for the communicator.

The message can come from the CEO, the management team as a group, immediate supervisors, etc. Your approach can be large group meetings, one-on-one presentations and everything in between. The supporting materials can be projections of PowerPoint® documents, video, written and so on.

For each audience you must decide the following:

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Step 6: Deliver Your Messages
If you are going to win, you have to show up. Likewise, if the message is going to be in the hearts and minds of the people responsible for actions and results, you have to get it out. The previous five steps have prepared you for this one. The Nike slogan applies here: Just Do It.

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Step 7: Verify That Your Audiences Understand Your Messages
Your purpose is to communicate, not just to broadcast. Use your ears, not just your mouth.

Each communication exercise should include an opportunity for questions and answers and for feedback. Make sure that the message you sent each group is the one that group received. At Hewlett Packard, this process required what David Packard called “management by walking around.”

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Step 8: Reinforce Your Communication at Regular Intervals
Strategy is about change and people resist change. Saying something once rarely is enough to change behavior. Top management has a critical responsibility to reinforce the communication of strategy constantly. Walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.

In your monitoring process, discuss whether the communication of your strategy is constant and consistent. Repeat the first seven steps to close any gaps you identify.

These eight steps enable you to break down the challenge of communicating your strategy to different audiences into bite-sized pieces. They also provide you with a framework for tailoring both your message and how you convey it to different audiences with differing information requirements and communication styles.

See how one company has successfully used tools presented in this article, including a sample of their communication piece, Our Strategic Planning Journey.

Center for Simplified Strategic Planning has prepared a new book, Alignment for Implementation: Getting Your People to Make Your Strategies Work, about how to handle the issues of strategic alignment. This is the perfect book for you if you want to:

  • Align your employees with your strategy
  • Make implementation easier
  • Get things done without pushing every step of the way
  • Get ideas about creating a culture of execution
  • Make sure you "walk the walk" with your strategies - and turn them into reality
  • Bring the benefits of great strategic thinking to the next level down in your organization

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© Copyright 2014 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. Ann Arbor, MI -- Reprint permission granted with full attribution.