When It Comes to Strategic Planning, Don’t Muzzle the Voices of Your Employees

Strategy planning is often conducted at only the highest levels in an organization. This is a huge mistake.

Think about it. You count on your employees, from the executive suite to the frontline, to carry the responsibility for actually executing your strategy. But why should they buy into your plan and fully commit to executing it if they had no part in creating it.  For any strategy to succeed, employees must understand it, believe that it will pave the way for success and feel that it is implementable in your specific corporate culture.

Even with a comprehensive, multi-step and multi-media cascading and communication program, your employees will have difficulty fully grasping the importance and impact of the plan and their role in achieving it. In fact, one recent study found that only 5% of employees were able to articulate their organization’s strategy. 5%–sounds like only the executive team and a few upper level managers!

The message is loud and clear. Executives need to come down from their ivory towers and open up the strategic planning process by involving the key people who are affected by it and who are part of executing it. Here is how to do it and what you will gain:

  1. The most effective way to gain employee buy-in is to involve them during, not after, the strategic planning process. For some organizations, this may not be possible. If not, include as many levels and cross-functional participants as possible. Then be sure you craft a clear and compelling message to convey the strategy to the rest of the work force that is simple to communicate, easily understood and highlights the core reasoning behind it…in other words, make sure they understand what will be gained if the strategy is successfully implemented.The purpose is to encourage employees to “own” their role in strategy execution and to provide input to make it a better fit for your unique organizational culture. They should clearly understand the goals to be reached and how success and progress will be measured. Then hold your managers accountable for explaining as often as needed the plan to their teams and helping their reports integrate the plan into the work they do on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Another way to open up the planning process is to let go of telling employees how to execute the strategy. Be clear about your vision for success; set target goals; but let individual employees and teams figure out how to achieve them. Give them a chance to come up with approaches they think will work. This increases their ownership of the strategy as they try to solve the problem of effective execution within their own area of expertise.
  3. The key to staying focused is having a clear set of values (or culture) to which your strategy is inextricably linked. This is a true test of your culture. If it is strong, your cultural norms and values will guide employee actions and decisions. As you observe employees making choices that support company values and lead toward strategy execution, recognize them with public praise. This will encourage others to follow suit. Everyone reacts well to positive feedback especially when their behavior is the result of a conscious effort to follow the plan. Conversely, do not tolerate behaviors that are in conflict with the way you want work to get done.

Even the best-crafted strategies are difficult to execute. Give your organization a head start toward success by involving the work force from the beginning so they get it and execute it in a way that they believe in.

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