Strategic focus can make or break a company when the stakes are high.

Settle or stretch…that may be the dilemma you face as you begin the critical strategic planning process. And your business results and the buy-in of your people will most likely depend upon the choice you make.

Is your business strategy planning process similar to the way most organizations run theirs? If so, you probably dread the annual sessions which are often tedious, always difficult, and too often result in plans that never get fully implemented. Only one-third of executives we speak with report that their strategy sessions produce what they should: plans that are (1) clear, (2) implementable and (3) compelling.

Our experience of over twenty years in helping our clients achieve strategies that are crystal clear has shown over and over again that it is not just short-term performance that suffers for lack of clarity but also long-term organizational health. In fact our organizational research found that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing companies. Reason enough to ensure that your strategy articulates why the company does what it does and how specific actions should lead to superior performance. Then there is no leeway for the inevitable choices, priorities and trade-offs to become blurred for employees.

Here are some tips on how to win at the business planning game as you keep your eye on the prize of overall, sustainable, healthy business growth by having a strategic focus:

  • Don’t be shy
    While you need to be somewhat realistic in your ambitions, step up to the challenge of stretch goals. Remember, you are looking to the future, not just maintaining the same old plan. If growth is the goal, be bold. Don’t begin with your budget. Go for the big picture dream and then adapt your budget and business planning to accommodate.
  • Don’t create the strategic plan in a bubble
    As leaders, you are responsible for a high-level strategy but make sure it is based on front-line input. Your customers and those employees who interact with them should help define the priorities of your winning strategy.
  • Don’t wait for year’s end
    Changes in the market don’t follow the calendar. If you are to create a strategy that works, you need to create a plan that can adapt to marketplace changes. Let business needs, not the time of year, dictate the timing of your strategy discussions. For best results, they should be ongoing. “One-and-done” thinking has no place in a high performance environment where decisions are based on up-to-date situations with a steady view of the future.
  • Don’t be constrained by last year’s plan
    Too many organizations simply increase resource allocations across the board. Instead you should put your money where it will have the greatest impact according to the current and future priorities, not the past. The strategy and resource allocation process need not be “fair.” Rather, it should be ruthlessly based on the priorities that you have set for the coming year and beyond.
  • Don’t hold the reins too tight
    Empower your senior managers to make timely decisions according to the strategy that is well understood and accepted across the board. If you add too many bureaucratic layers to the decision making process, the focus on timely decisions that serve customers better can be lost.

Does your strategic planning process empower your entire company to define clear priorities, think boldly and drive forward with a ruthless focus toward high performance?

To learn more about creating strategic focus across an organization, please download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

 

When it comes to increasing levels of employee advocacy, discretionary effort and intent to stay, some employee engagement strategies are better than others.

If you are serious about improving your workplace performance and achieving outstanding levels of employee engagement, you need to recognize that increasing employee engagement is not easy…but the payback is significant. Companies with higher levels of employee engagement report:

  • 12% greater customer satisfaction
  • 18% increased productivity
  • 51% fewer voluntary job losses

Companies with lower levels of employee engagement report:

  • 12% lower profits
  • 19% less operating income
  • 28% decreased earnings per share

How do you get to become a great place to work and follow through on your commitment to greater employee engagement? It takes genuine interest in employee feedback, sound data, hard work and employee engagement strategies that are designed to have a true impact on the business. That’s what can make the difference between superficial promises of a better work environment and real change.

Here are five recommendations for your overall employee engagement strategies so you, too, can be a winner at the “game” of achieving a winning level of employee advocacy, discretionary effort and intent to stay:

Gather employee feedback

  1. Do it annually to foster the highest levels of employee engagement. If less frequent, the data loses its relevance and there is no consistent process for employees to give more up-to-date feedback. With an annual system in place, employees trust the initiative.
  2. Your first survey should ask specifically for feedback. In subsequent surveys, you should add questions like the following to be sure that what you have learned is being effectively implemented for the employees at large:
  • Did your manager share survey results with the team?
  • Did your team come up with a plan of action to respond to the issues raised?
  • Do you believe that company leaders are fully committed to addressing and solving those issues?
  • Has anything changed as a result of the employee survey? If so, what?

Disseminate Survey Results

  1. Select the medium of communication that will be the most effective for each group. Webinars and emails may work best for remote employees; but, whenever possible, rely on in-person communication with ample opportunities for employees to ask questions and air concerns. We advise our clients to use a multi-step communication model for sharing results.
  • Begin with a high-level summary of results by the CEO at an all-hands session.
  • Include the topic of employee engagement at all team meetings…large and small. Welcome discussions on how to build engagement strength and where to look for areas of opportunity.
  • Create cross-functional teams that commit to coming up with recommendations on how to increase engagement in a few of those promising areas.
  • Make sure that those recommendations are shared with senior leaders so they have the information they need for improvements specific to their area of the business.

Hold Leaders Accountable

  1. Give managers the authority and responsibility to drive the engagement initiative and take ownership for addressing and handling their team’s issues.
  2. Monitor and publish results…not in the spirit of punishment for those whose results are poor but in the spirit of sharing best practices. Make it clear that directors are accountable to coach their managers toward the goal of improved engagement.

The Bottom Line

Just about any corporate initiative that succeeds has these common factors:

  • Clear goals
  • Shared results
  • Employee involvement
  • Leadership’s follow-through.

If you can effectively communicate the potential value of an engaged work force not only to company leaders but also to the general employee population, include everyone in the conversation about how and where to improve, and sustain the effort over time, the winners’ podium is yours.

To learn more about game winning employee engagement strategies, download The Top 10 Most Powerful Ways to Boost Employee Engagement.

 

 

Better talent management matters.

Recent research by Bersin found that organizations with highly effective talent management strategies achieve 26% more revenue per employee and have 41% low turnover. Our own organizational alignment research found that better talent management accounts for 29% of the difference between high and low performing companies in terms of revenue, profits and employee engagement.

This makes your intention to focus on improving your ability to attract, develop, engage and retain talent all the more compelling, doesn’t it?

At LSA, we believe that the goal of talent management is to create and sustain organizational excellence through people – specifically by attracting, developing, engaging and retaining the top talent that makes sense for your specific business strategy and unique organizational culture. When you manage your talent effectively, it can differentiate your company from the competition in both good and bad times; when managed ineffectively, inconsistent and unaligned talent management approaches can grind your company to a halt.

Here are five best practices for better talent management and the opportunity to leap ahead of your competition through your people:

  1. Alignment of individual goals with your overall business strategy
    Assuming you have crafted a clear business strategy that is well understood and agreed upon throughout your organization, translate the overall strategy into the critical few actions needed at every level and the behaviors needed by every employee for the plan to succeed. When employees recognize that what they do and how well they do it supports the goals of the organization, they are more engaged in their work.
  2. Ongoing, meaningful feedback
    A critical aspect of better talent management is managing performance. The best companies have learned that the annual performance review is far less effective than more frequent, timely feedback delivered throughout the year from peers, customers, partners, direct reports, stakeholders and leadership.
  3. Development opportunities
    Employees who have ample opportunities to learn and grow know that their company values them and is willing to invest in their continuous learning and career development. Development plays a huge role in employee engagement and in effective talent management.
  4. Helpful technology
    Multiple options now exist to support HR in their role of optimizing the effectiveness of employees. From help in recruiting the right talent, identifying skill gaps, monitoring progress against identified behavioral goals, and addressing development needs, technology is a tool that can greatly benefit HR if implemented correctly.
  5. A workable succession plan
    Don’t let your company be hampered by high level, key vacancies. Continually identify your most strategic roles, review who your most critical players are and be sure you have qualified candidates when you need them. Identify and develop your high potentials so when positions open up, you can fill them.

Especially for companies that rely on their people to succeed, business results depend on designing and implementing the right talent strategy.

To learn more about better talent management, download 5 Key Succession Planning Trends and Lessons from the Field

Are you and your talent leaders doing what it takes to combat disturbing employee engagement statistics?

As a company leader, how many of your employees would chime in honestly with an overall  “I love my job” reply to your employee engagement survey?

According to a recent report by Gallup on the State of the American Workplace, only about one-third of American workers are engaged on the job. In addition, over half of American employees just check in and go through the motions. This is not the way to build a thriving economy…much less a business healthy enough to grow and succeed into the future.

As we work with our clients who are committed to improving employee engagement, we advise three steps to combat disturbing employee engagement statistics: assess, select and follow up.

  1. Assess employee engagement levels
    You need to figure out what’s missing for your employees. Whether you use an employee engagement survey proven to get real answers from your unique employee population , you use well-chosen focus groups or you simply open the “floor” for discussion around what could make your workplace better, you must ask the right questions and be prepared to deal effectively with the answers.
  2. Select the employee engagement actions that matter most
    Look at the employee engagement results and choose the critical few factors that would have the most impact on employee engagement. You can’t address everything at once. Prioritize the factors that will move the needle the furthest and the fastest vis-à-vis your unique business strategy and corporate culture.
  3. Follow up
    Keep your workforce informed throughout the process…the reason for measuring and trying to improve employee engagement, the results, the steps you will take to improve, and the measure of progress.

An Example
Chances are you will find that your managers play a huge role in either keeping your employees happy or pushing them to look for opportunities elsewhere. And what we have found is that it is often management’s problem with communication that is at fault…managers don’t communicate often enough on a personal level, they don’t recognize good work and celebrate successes, and they don’t share timely information that would help employees make good decisions on their own.

A quick win for one client was learning that their employees were unaware of the all the benefits due to them.  We know benefits are often used to attract and retain talent. Companies offer benefits like health insurance, investment plans, flexible work hours, generous vacations, a company car, in-house day care and paid time off in addition to more frivolous perks like gourmet cafeterias, on-site dry cleaning and auto service, free gym memberships, etc. But none of these benefits makes a difference to your workforce’s level of engagement if employees are unaware of them. Managers need to be better advocates of their company by touting all it has to offer and be better advocates of their employees by working for benefits that are of the most value to their team.

Employee engagement matters to your bottom line. Keep your employees committed to their jobs and doing their best by seeing that your managers connect positively and frequently with their direct reports.

To learn more about how to combat disturbing employee engagement statistics and to communicate better with your teams, download Leading Virtual Teams – Top 4 Challenges and 3 Winning Communication Strategies

Some leaders think they must set goals for a high performance culture that are impossible (or almost impossible) to reach in order to motivate their teams to provide maximum effort and peak performance.  Other leaders believe success metrics must be set low enough so that people can consistently exceed expectations without setting themselves up to fail.

We believe that both sets of leaders are wrong.

To set goals for a high performance culture, they must be “just right.”  Our high performance culture research combined with twenty-plus years of helping clients boost their performance tells us that overly ambitious goals discourage rather than encourage greater effort. Ultra-stretch goals may work for some super-charged salespeople but, in the final analysis, they are counter-productive. The same is true when the bar is set too low.

Impossible to Reach Goals
Here is what happens step-by-step when you regularly set goals that are not achievable.

  • First, when the targets are not reached, excuses are made. Whatever the reason for failure—not enough resources, not enough time, stiff competition—there is a lack of accountability where it belongs…on the shoulders of the leaders who set them, the team that agreed to them (or maybe did not disagree strongly enough) and the team that failed to reach them.
  • Second, consistently missing targets sets up a situation where failure becomes the norm. Either the goals are not thoughtfully chosen or the team does not do what it commits to doing. The result is a low performing team where there is no accountability and failure is not simply accepted…it is expected.

Sandbagged Goals
When goals are set too low, our experience is that performance is almost always “left on the table.”  Sure, some may surpass their targets and exceed expectations, but they rarely perform at their peak.  As stated by Michelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

How can you, instead, build a high performance culture where achievement, not failure, becomes the standard? When you set goals for a high performance culture, you need to be:

  1. Clear
    Both too high and too fuzzy goals are unattainable. Goals should be crystal clear, very specific and easily measured. Only then can you monitor and track progress…both activities are absolutely critical to holding your team accountable and to adjusting the numbers, as needed, to allow for unforeseen changing conditions.
  2. Realistic
    Somewhere between overly easy and overly difficult goals are the reasonable, so-called stretch goals that are challenging and inspiring but also, with extra effort, realistically attainable. You want to encourage greater effort from your team by asking them to “stretch” a little further each goal setting period with fair, accurate, and relevant goals that are “just within reach” if people perform at their peak.
  3. Choosy
    Select goals that, once achieved, will have a real business impact. It is important to choose just a few goals with the highest priority. By focusing workforce efforts on the goals that are most effectively aligned with your strategy, you are setting your team up to succeed.
  4. Prepared
    Don’t let your targets be missed due to lack of resources. Make sure you have the money, the time, the raw materials and the talent to make your numbers. Objectives can’t be met by will and commitment alone.

We know that workplace culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies.  And we believe it is a leader’s job to create the circumstances to consistently get the most out of their people in a way that is consistent with the organization’s core values, behaviors and strategies.

If we push too much (or even too little), we may not meet our goals.  The right balance, a high performance culture, is an environment that stimulates its population to improve their performance. Clearly define and choose goals that will set your team on the performance path to success.

To learn more about the ingredients required to have healthy performance pressure, download Performance Pressure: How Much Should a Leader Push

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