Changing the Way the World Thinks about Strategy

In my last post, I discussed the issues around information that people encounter in their strategic planning.  This week, I’ll be discussing how people can run into strategic planning trouble with buy-in.

Getting buy-in in strategic planning


Buy-in is a way of describing the emotional attachment your team feels to the strategic plan and the efforts required to execute your strategic plan.  As organizations grow, this element gets more and more difficult, and this can be an issue in even the smallest businesses.  In our experience, a cultural alignment of employees with the mission of the organization and its strategic plan are critical to success. There are three key issues you may encounter with buy-in, and each has some specific remedies.

  • Not getting buy in

This is perhaps the grandaddy of all strategic planning problems, and it naturally grows out of the way companies grow.  In the beginning, one person does strategic decision making in a business , then a small team, and then a growing cadre of managers.

In the first transition – from an entrepreneur-run business to one run by a management team, leaders often struggle to let go of their roles.  This includes both decision making and execution of strategic projects.  Failing to let go clearly limits both the support given the plan by the team and the horsepower available to execution, leaving the single owner or CEO burdened with all the tasks in both creating and executing strategy.  While some energetic CEOs may manage that burden in creating strategy, as the company grows, the amount of work required in executing strategy well crescendos to an unmanageable volume.  We often see the effect of this in companies that reach a plateau of growth despite having a brilliant and energetic CEO.

T0 remedy, obviously, a collaborative, team-based approach to developing and implementing strategy excels.  There is simply no substitute for a well-managed planning process with a team of responsible executives for building both and understanding of, and buy-in to, the strategic plan.

  • Getting buy-in the wrong way

Knowing the importance of buy-in sometimes leads businesses leaders to try to build buy-in by having a “team-based” process that does a poor job of getting real buy-in.  This almost always happens when some aspect of the process leaves key people feeling disengaged.  The three most common causes of that disengagement are:

    • Being ignored

If you bring someone into the process, you need to value and listen to their input. This is hardest if key people on the tream disagree with the input. It’s vital to assure everyone is heard and no one – not even the CEO – dominates the discussion.

    • Complexity and overwhelm

If your planning is cumbersome, hard to understand, or has so much data that team members feel they are drowning in information, they can easily disengage. The best way to combat this is to simplify key answers.  Use fewer words if possible.  Also, try to digest information into easily grasped ideas.  It also helps, of course, to use a simplified process and check in with team members frequently about their understanding of what you are doing.

    • Not seeing relevance

Team members who don’t see how the strategic plan will help them or make a difference in their work may come to view the whole process as irrelevant. Such members may need to be drawn into the conversation and clearly shown the value of the process in the focused world of their jobs.

  • Too much buy in

    This one is a little more rare, but it does happen. If buy-in is good, more buy in should be better – but that’s not true.  I like to think of strategic planning as navigating a ship.  It’s a critical task, but that doesn’t mean every crew member should have their hand on the steering wheel.  In Simplified Strategic Planning, we emphasize getting input and commitment from team members at the appropriate level.  This means that operational employees need to bring insights into improving the operation.  You should not be looking to them for solutions to financial issues, for example.

As a rule, involve as many people as practical in elements of the plan, such as the action plans.  If you do this, you’ll want to allow time to bring everyone up to speed on what you are doing and why.  You will also need extra time for collaborative communication, since the number of people involved can greatly increase the time needed to discuss strategic issues.

This list may not be exhaustive.  If you have seen other issues with buy-in that have led to strategic problems,  I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Also, if you’d like to discuss how we avoid these issues in the Simplfied Strategic Planning process, feel free to reach out.  There is no charge for a short conversation about the issues you’re seeing in your planning process, and we are always happy to offer solutions.

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