What to Do If Your Strategy is a Moving Target

cartoon of a man chasing a target on the run

If your team believes that your strategy is a moving target that is never fully understood nor implemented, it is time to take stock of what’s going wrong.

Why can’t your team implement the business strategy that you and other senior leaders were so enthusiastic about?

We admit it’s not easy to successfully implement a strategy. And if you are struggling, you are not alone. Trying to pull together all your employees and focus them in one direction over a sustained period of time is a daunting challenge. We know from The Economist Intelligence Unit that almost two-thirds of strategies are woefully unsuccessful because of poor execution. We know from our own research that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing organizations.

But in our two decades of work with corporate leaders who are intent on making their business strategy work, we have identified part of the problem. It’s in the communication…

One-Way Strategy Communication Approach
First, too many inexperienced leaders mistakenly believe that communicating the strategy through emails, town halls and slogans should be good enough for people to understand, believe in and execute their strategic plans. While marketing and messaging can certainly play a role in creating strategic clarity and commitment, business strategies are too nuanced and take too many adjustments to be satisfied with one-way communications.

Strategy Cascade Approach
Secondly, most leadership teams believe that the best way to communicate their corporate strategy is via the strategy cascade approach. The strategy cascade method involves senior leaders transferring the strategic goals to their direct reports who, in turn, communicate the plan to their direct reports who are tasked with interpreting the strategy to their teams.

The theory is that the corporate strategy will be passed along from level to level and end up in the hands of those who must implement it. While this is more effective than the one-way communication approach, this incorrectly assumes that employees throughout the organization will understand what they are to do and how what they do will contribution to the overall company performance.

We know from experience that, inevitably, things get muddled along the way based upon 5 common strategy cascade challenges:

  1. Some strategic goals seem either irrelevant or out of the control of certain departments or functions. What should teams do with these items?
  2. It is unclear which strategic components are mandated, guided or autonomous. How should teams handle decision making in these instances?
  3. Something seemingly important to a department or function is not included. How do people address this concern and still align with the strategy?
  4. Other goals or metrics are in conflict with a department’s goals or metrics. How do potential conflicts get resolved?
  5. The level of clarity, believability or implementability is not high enough to gain full commitment. What can be done to ensure enough strategic buy-in to be set up for success?

The strategy cascading cure is three-fold.

  1. First senior leaders must communicate directly with all their employees.
    Employees want to hear the future plan from those who created it and are most responsible for it succeeding. They will lend much more credence to the corporate strategy when they hear it directly from their leadership and, if communicated simply and compellingly, are much more likely to commit to it. While many mistakenly think employees want to hear about the corporate strategy from their manager, the direct approach eliminates any misunderstandings or misinterpretations by lower level managers.Granted, senior leaders can’t meet one-on-one with all their employees. But they can address them in large sessions and then hold interactive forums where questions can be asked and addressed. Further, they can follow up on a regular basis with a communication campaign that reiterates the message and solicits feedback.
  2. Managers need to work with their teams to show how their individual activities contribute to the overall goal.
    Employees need to feel that they are not just crossing off a list of “to-do’s” but are meaningfully supporting the leadership’s strategic direction. You will know you are headed in the right direction when employees know they will be recognized when they contribute to the organization’s success and understand how their job helps the organization achieve success.
  3. Leaders must ensure that the workforce has the environment and resources they need to succeed.
    It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that their teams are set up to succeed. Allocating sufficient capacity has been shown to increase executive success by over 30%. You will know you are headed in the right direction when employees feel like they have the materials, equipment, and other resources required to do their job well and that the work environment allows them to do their best work.

When leaders communicate the strategy directly, make sure that employees understand how they contribute toward the goal, and see that the resources are allocated appropriately, successful strategy execution is within reach.

To learn more about strategic clarity and communication, download The 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Communicating and Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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