This article was originally posted in Course and Direction, and this is Part One of that article.
It’s critically important that employees understand your strategy. Employees who understand your strategy will be able to make better day-to-day decisions that will support your vision. But, while most of us understand this – at least intellectually – we often have difficulty effectively communicating our strategies to people outside of the strategic planning team. This may be especially difficult if you feel that parts of your strategy are sensitive and should not be shared with people outside of your management team. In addition, it may be undesirable to load employees with the task of thoroughly understanding all of your strategic planning documents when many employees only touch on one small operational area. How can we reconcile these difficulties?
First, you should probably have a separate vehicle for communicating your strategy. Handing out photocopies of your strategic planning binder will not achieve the effect you desire. Definitely prepare a separate document for communicating your strategy to employees. There are several reasons why this is a good idea. First, a strategy communication document can be written expressly for your employee base, using language that they will understand. Second, such a document can be structured around communications effectiveness, rather than being structured around the strategy or implementation process. Finally, it is much easier to police a short strategy communication document for sensitive data that you may not want to share with others – especially competitors.
The second way of communicating your strategy more effectively is to use something short and to-the-point, since many employees won’t want to spend a lot of time reading about your vision. Our clients have found that a one-sheet summary combined with a short (15-30 minute) informational meeting with managers is most effective vehicle for communicating the outcome of your strategic planning meetings. The more quickly and easily employees can digest – and understand – your strategy, the more likely they are to do so, and take it to heart. We strongly recommend the judicious use of bullet points and, where appropriate, graphics, to get your strategic vision across as succinctly as possible.
Thirdly, you should “sanitize” your communication document. This isn’t as hard as it sounds – you simply need to look at everything you might share with employees and ask “will it hurt us if other people know this?” Obviously, this is much easier if you are using a separate document for communicating your strategy. One of the very interesting things we notice about “sanitized” strategy documents is that they still convey a strong sense of the company’s strategic competency. This is because real strategic competency is a very good example of something that’s unlikely to hurt you if shared. So go ahead and share your competencies – if they are real. On the other hand, you will want to be very careful about the weaknesses your company has that are discussed in such a document. The reason for this is twofold: first, you don’t want employees focusing too heavily on weaknesses for a host of reasons, and second, you don’t want to tip your hand on any internal issues that you are addressing before you have tackled them. A savvy competitor can make a lot of hay from any weaknesses you acknowledge in public, so make sure that any communication that includes weaknesses focuses on strategically useful weaknesses rather than issues you intend to address and possibly fix in the future.
If your company needs to improve its strategies, contact us for great, experienced leadership through the strategy development process. Our highly acclaimed Simplified Strategic Planning approach has helped many hundreds of organizations improve their strategies and bottom line results with effective, actionable strategies. Please listen to our webinar: Why my strategic planning isn’t working.