I spend a lot of time with Fortune 500 leaders that have built amazing companies. When making strategic shifts, their problem is rarely the quality of their strategy. Instead, the core issue they face is achieving emotional engagement by employees.
Let me share with you a brief story. Jared, a senior leader for Health System Conglomerate Inc. went to give a town hall presentation about the company’s strategy to the employees of General Hospital – a West Coast hospital chain that his company had acquired three years earlier. To his surprise, a common theme that arose from the employees was, “Who is Health System Conglomerate? We work for General Hospital. That’s what’s on the side of our buildings.” It didn’t take long for Jared to realize that even though the hospital chain had been purchased years earlier, the allegiance of employees was still to the local management team and the employees had no interest in understanding what Health System Conglomerate was.
It’s tough to get anyone’s attention these days. Every few minutes, we are interrupted with a new message to look at, a task to assess and prioritize, a conversation to engage in, and a cute animal video to watch.
The noise around us makes it hard to stay focused. And that means that getting employees to pay attention to strategy is harder than ever.
You’re letting time get the best of you
One of the reasons strategic shifts are so tough is time. If you and I were sitting at Starbucks and I asked you what your company’s strategic shift was all about, we’d have a conversation about it, person-to-person.
But the ability for you to personalize the conversation, understand my context, and adjust the message to earn my trust and engagement works because there’s only one person for you to talk to. The moment we have to scale that conversation to hundreds or thousands of employees, we forget about being personal.
We don’t know how to personalize the message for everyone.
We don’t want to hear all of the fears that others have about change.
We don’t want to explain, we just want execution.
All because we don’t have time.
When I was selling our strategic execution services to clients, it took a long time for me to say, “If you’re not willing to commit the time to achieve authentic employee engagement, you’re probably not the right client for me.” Mostly, I was worried to lose a client. But deep down, I was also worried that if I went ahead without the company’s commitment, I would let the client’s employees down by providing them with an inauthentic learning experience.
Here’s the truth:
What makes your strategy successful is whether employees make an emotional connection. It also hinges on how they choose to go about executing it. A commitment to authentically engaging your employees will require you to commit time and attention that you’d rather invest elsewhere.
Help employees paint themselves into the picture
Jared’s health system was in such a rush to integrate the patients and IT systems of each hospital chain that it didn’t invest enough time in authentically welcoming and embracing the acquired employees.
As a talent management leader, I encourage you to deliver a difficult but vital message to your executives: to achieve strategic change, they need to be willing to set aside the time and resources to authentically engage employees. Executives can paint a picture of what the future looks like, but employees need to be involved in the process of discussing the necessary changes so that they can paint themselves into that picture. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you talk with your executives:
- Authentic engagement is the essential gateway to influencing employees.
- Employees will listen to what executives have to say, but they will act on their own conclusions.
- The quality of discussions that leaders have with employees about strategy will determine the quality of its execution.
Once employees can see how they fit into the future of the business, they will commit to executing the strategy and deal with the operational problems that will inevitably arise.