When it comes to strategy, CEOs can be secretive. On more than one occasion, I’ve had a CEO ask me to help their workforce execute the company’s strategy without telling employees what the strategy is. Yes, you read that right. CEOs have told me “I want my employees to execute our strategy, but I don’t want you tell them what our strategy is.”
This idea—that employees shouldn’t be given access to detailed business strategy—shows up in every level of management. If you want to make a positive difference in your company culture, take action to help leaders understand why sharing detailed business strategy is critical to effective strategy execution.
Overcoming the Strategy Secrecy Mindset
The case for sharing detailed business strategy with employees is substantial. Listed below are 3 points you can raise to change the minds of your leaders:
1. Your investment of resources will produce higher returns. There are only so many budget dollars that can be spent. The successful deployment of your strategy is dependent upon managers and employees’ discussions of that strategy—they ways it will change where they spend their time, and what they should spend budget dollars on. How many times have you seen teams spend their money buying technology and building products that then gets tossed to the side because they are no longer relevant? The sooner teams adjust their spending to the priorities best aligned with business strategy, the higher the return on those investments.
2. Your speed of operational change will improve significantly. When you read news about other industries, do you wonder why some companies excel while others in the same industry fail miserably? Research has shown that the speed of operational change is a critical factor. If employees don’t know the details of your strategy, how can they make adjustments to the thousands of decisions and actions that they make on a daily basis? They can’t. By having a first-hand understanding of your company’s business strategy, your workforce will have the shared strategy context needed to quickly implement operational change to meet new customer demands and fend off competitors’ emerging efforts.
3. Your organizational culture will become your competitive advantage. Strategies come and strategies go, but companies that trust, equip and empower employees become industry leaders. Consider your own company. If you got ahold of your competitor’s strategy, do you think your organization could move quickly enough to take advantage of that knowledge? Unlikely. Most companies struggle to implement their own strategy, let alone someone else’s. I’ve worked with dozens of Fortune 500 leadership teams, and the ones that are truly exceptional realize that it takes both a good strategy and a great organizational culture to become a world-class leader in the industry. Sharing detailed business strategy is an important aspect of fostering a great organizational culture.
A Framework For Sharing Your Business Strategy With Employees
To help you think through how to share your business strategy with employees, we offer a proven framework:
1. Start With Winning Their Hearts. Remind employees what the company’s vision is, and help them personalize it. When employees have a personal and emotional stake in the company’s vision, they’ll thirst for the details of the business strategy.
- You can use employee surveys to measure changes in understanding of strategy, and determine how operations should change.
- You can also ask people what the vision statement means to them. Though anecdotal, if you ask enough people, you will collect enough data points to target more meaningful data collection.
2. Set Inspirational Goals. I’m a strategy nerd and I love all aspects of strategy, especially the numbers. But most employees don’t. So when establishing the desired goals of a strategy, make sure those goals have clear line-of-sight to the company’s vision. Nobody will go the extra mile for
an emotionally uninspiring goal like “achieve 15% profit growth,” so be sure to translate strategy goals into terms that are meaningful to employees and aligned with your company’s vision. And if you’re having a struggle doing this, then you’ll want to get your executives in a room to determine if the vision statement needs tweaking, or if your strategic goals are misaligned with your vision.
When setting inspirational goals, try to set goals that are Mutually Exclusive and Completely Exhaustive (MECE, pronounced “me see”). Employees get confused when strategic goals sound similar but aren’t. This isn’t to say that some goals aren’t interdependent; they may be, but the more distinct and precise each goal is, the more likely it is to be understood and embraced. Inspirational goals should also be completely exhaustive, meaning that there should be goals that address all aspects of your vision. No doubt should be left in your employee’s minds as to how your strategy is going to achieve your company’s vision. Our experience has been that when executive teams aren’t able to establish MECE goals, they either have muddled thinking or haven’t finished the work to get there.
3. Authentically Engage. You will want to design an employee education and engagement process that is authentic. Too often, management teams have tried to quickly cascade strategy down through an organization without investing in an appropriate process for doing so.
- The more you plan to authentically educate and engage employees in your business strategy, the more you’ll realize that it’s a really big project and you have to be very intentional with each employee communication.
- For every hour you invest in strategy education, you’ll save weeks in wasted efforts, cross-functional turf wars, and monies spent.
4. Equip and Empower. Equipping and empowering employees to make decisions and implement change is one of the more challenging aspects of this framework because it affects aspects of management and operations.
- I recommend you take a project management approach to equipping and empowering employees. Establish project teams at the operational level, led by the appropriate leader, that will redefine what decisions employees are allowed to make and what tools (e.g. data collection, digital feedback, etc.) will be provided to them.
- This equip and empower phase requires a hands-on approach by management teams, and support from the HR organization.
Trusting employees with business strategy is the best way to achieve higher levels of strategy execution. I’ve provided you with business case reasons to support this belief. Contact me if you want to discuss examples of how metrics and data can be used to support the business case. I have also provided you with a framework for engaging employees with strategy. The framework is a starting point and should be customized to suit your unique organization and leadership team. Please share any experiences you’ve had and ask any questions that you’re thinking about.