How to Actively Involve Employees in Strategic Planning

How to Actively Involve Employees in Strategic Planning
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Do You Actively Involve Employees in Strategic Planning?
Strategic planning is often conducted at only the highest levels in an organization. While leaders certainly need to be on the same page and speak with one voice, this is a huge mistake.  Companies who do not actively involve employees in strategic planning are asking for strategy execution and change management problems — especially middle managers.


Because most misunderstandings and miscommunications that can sabotage strategic clarity, commitment, and execution happen across all levels of an organization — both internally and externally — not just at the top.  Leaders telling people the “right strategy” without enough buy in from the people who need to implement it is a recipe for frustration, inconsistency, and failure.  The good news is that according to Gartner research, employees are 77% more likely to be high performers when their level of understanding of strategic goals and their strategic buy-in to their day-to-day tasks is high.

Strategy Must Go Through People to Get Implemented
Think about it. You count on your employees, from the executive suite to the front line, 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, the strategy must be crystal clear so that employees can truly:

  • Understand it
  • Believe that it will pave the way for success
  • Feel that it is implementable in your specific corporate culture and marketplace

Communication Does Not Equal Active Involvement
Even with a comprehensive, multi-step and multi-media 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.

This does not surprise us.  Executives spend spend weeks or months actively designing their strategies.  How can you expect employees to have the same level of understanding, belief, or commitment from communications alone.

Go Slow During Strategic Planning to Go Fast During Strategy Execution
The message is loud and clear. Executives need to come down from their ivory towers after strategy retreats, open up the strategic planning process, and actively involve employees in strategic planning who are affected by it and who are part of executing it.

Here is how to do it and what you will gain:

  1. Gain Employee Buy-in by Involving Them During, Not After, the Strategic Planning Process
    For some organizations, it may not be possible to actively involve employees in strategic planning. If it is not possible to include everyone, 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.  The strategy should be simple to communicate, easily understood, and highlight the core reasoning behind it.

    In other words, make sure your key stakeholders 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.  Employees 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. 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 — as long as it aligns with your desired corporate culture. Give employees a chance to come up with approaches that they think will work in a way that makes sense.

    Leaders who actively involve employees in strategic planning increase ownership of the strategy as employees try to solve the problem of effective execution within their own area of expertise.

  3. Have a Clear Culture to Which Your Strategy is Inextricably Aligned
    Have you assessed your corporate culture to know if it is helping or hindering your business and people strategies?  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.  Recognizing and rewarding core values encourages others to follow suit.

    Everyone appreciates  a culture of 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.  If your culture is misaligned with your strategy, your plans are just wishful thinking.

The Bottom Line
Even well-crafted strategies are difficult to execute. To give your organization a head start toward success, actively involve employees in strategic planning and design from the beginning so that they understand it and can execute it in a way that they believe in.  When it comes to strategy buy in and execution, go slow to go fast.

To learn more about how to actively involve employees in strategic planning, download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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