What To Do if Your Strategy is a Moving Target?

Strategy is a Moving Target cartoon of a man chasing a target on the run

Is Your Strategy a Moving Target?
If your team believes that your strategy is a moving target that shifts with the wind, it will most likely never be fully understood or fully implemented.  As a leader responsible for setting the direction of your team, shifting strategic priorities is a warning sign that it is time to take stock and to simplify your strategic priorities.

Strategy Execution is Harder than Strategy Design
We admit it’s not easy to implement a strategy successfully across a company. 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.  The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that almost two-thirds of strategies are woefully unsuccessful because of poor execution.

But in our two plus decades of organizational alignment work with corporate leaders, we have identified part of the problem. Assuming that you have distilled your strategic priorities into the critical few, if employees feel your strategy is a moving target, it may be in how you mistakenly (or lazily) communicate your strategy.

The One-Way Strategy Communication Approach
First, people often think their strategy is a moving target when the company’s strategy is mostly communicated through emails, town halls, and slogans.  While marketing and messaging can certainly play a role, business strategies are too nuanced and take too many adjustments to be satisfied with one-way communications.  It takes concerted time and effort for people to understand, believe in and execute strategic plans across an organization.

The Strategy Cascade Approach
Secondly, most leadership teams believe that the best way to communicate their corporate strategy is via the strategy cascade approach. The strategic 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, we know from experience that, inevitably, things get muddled along the way when the corporate strategy version of the telephone game occurs.

5 Common Strategy Cascade Challenges
If people think your strategy is a moving target, avoid these five common mistakes when cascading a strategy:

1.  Lack of Relevancy and Influence
If some strategic goals seem either irrelevant or out of the control of certain departments or functions, it is difficult gain commitment and move forward. What should teams do with these items?

2.  Lack of Guidelines
If it is unclear which strategic components are mandated, guided or autonomous, how should teams handle decision making in these instances?

3.  Something Missing
If something seemingly important to a department, function or role is not included, how do people address this concern and still align with the strategy?

4.  Conflicting Priorities
If goals or metrics are in conflict with another department’s goals or metrics, how do potential conflicts get resolved?

5.  Lack of Clarity, Believability or Implementability
If something is unclear or perceived as not feasible in your culture or your marketplace, what can be done to ensure enough strategic buy-in to be set up for success?

How To Better Cascade Your Corporate Strategy

1.  Get Executive Leadership On the Same Page
Until the executive leadership team agrees on the critical few (less than five) things that matter most and why, it is useless to try to roll out strategic plans to the rest of the workforce.  Your first step should be to create a clear, believable and implementable strategy that the entire leadership team is committed to standing behind and seeing through.

2.  Actively Involve Senior Leaders
Once your executive leadership team has agreed upon an overall direction, it is time to actively involve their direct reports by sharing the new strategy and having a ruthlessly candid discussion about what:

  • Makes sense and what does not make sense
  • Barriers must be overcome
  • Is required for them to fully commit to implementing the strategy successfully across the company

Keep at this process with senior leaders until they are as committed and aligned as the executive leadership team.

3.  Communicate to the Entire Workforce
Once the top leaders agree upon what is required for success, it is time to actively involve employees in the process.  First, employees typically want to hear future corporate plans from those who created it. 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 initially 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.

4.  Actively Involve The Entire Workforce
Once employees understand the overall strategic direction and the rationale behind it, employees need to feel that are meaningfully part of the equation. Managers need to actively work with their teams to design how their individual activities contribute directly to the overall goals.

You will know you are headed in the right direction when employees understand how their job helps the organization achieve success and know they will be fairly recognized when they contribute to that success.

5.  Create the Environment and Provide the Resources for Success
It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that their teams are set up to succeed. Because strategies must go through culture and people to get implemented, your next step is to make sure that your cultural norms align with and support each and every strategic priority.  then you must provide the resources and create the organizational capacity required to execute your plans.

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 helps them to do their best work.

The Bottom Line
When leaders get on the same page, actively involve their workforce, align their culture with their strategy, and see that the resources are allocated appropriately, successful strategy execution is within reach.

If you are afraid your strategy is a moving target download The 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Communicating and Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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