Surprising Data about Corporate Strategy Communication

The word "strategy" is surrounded by graphs and charts

Recent research by the Harvard Business Review turned up some rather surprising data on what counts most when you are communicating strategy.

After analyzing over 60,000 responses to a survey on employee engagement at a global company, they expected to find that strategy was best understood and accepted by (1) higher-level employees and (2) those who were generally content with their compensation and (3) had a positive view of their organization…and the results bore out that anticipated result.

They then looked more closely at the factors that might be helpful to know as you seek to effectively communicate a corporate strategy. They analyzed the effect of an employee’s view of their manager, their trust in the company’s leadership and the conditions of their job. Certainly the conditions of the job would affect an employee’s engagement and thus their understanding and commitment to the company’s strategy. That was an expected result. But what was surprising…top leadership had a far greater impact and much greater direct role on how well employees “get” strategy than their immediate supervisors.

This is important data because strategic clarity – defined as being understood, believable and implementable – accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing organizations.

What does this mean to companies embarking on a new strategy that requires total workforce commitment for implementation success? It means that the traditional cascading mechanism of strategy communication needs some tweaks. This is the process whereby top management explains the strategy to middle managers who are then tasked with “cascading” the information down to their direct reports.

What counts most when communicating strategy throughout an organization is that employees need to hear more directly from top leaders. For employees to truly buy into the corporate strategy so that it becomes the way they make decisions and go about their work day-to-day, they need more than a translation of the strategy from their direct supervisors. Employees apparently have greater faith in their top leaders when it comes to planning the future direction of the organization. They seem to feel that the executives at the top have a perspective and overall view that lower levels do not.

When you are planning to cascade your corporate strategy, see that you bring senior leadership in more direct contact with employees. Plan ways to have discussions so that employees can ask questions, share their concerns and express their views.

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