Organizations often generate Strategic Plans to communicate the leadership’s objectives for the coming year or to convey a new vision. While these documents are typically well conceived, the question arises: How will the organization — at all levels — understand and implement the strategy? A mid-level manager is often left to ask several questions: “Even with this nice, shiny new document, am I really clear on the organization’s priorities? Or, do I now simply have an aggregated laundry list of what is important to my leaders, but in no priority order? How can I ensure that I am clearly aligned to these (sometimes) vague proclamations?”
Too often, this is the case. Managers tasked with implementing the strategy are left to struggle through the interpretation of vague guidance and unclear priorities, as well as how to communicate alignment with their leaders’ objectives. There is a deep, fundamental organizational need to communicate the strategy down to the lower levels. Conversely, it is equally important for those at lower levels to convey implementation effectiveness and back up the hierarchy. This is very hard to do, but if it is not done the organization will operate in an inefficient manner with disconnected managers wondering what their leaders really want.
There is hope! Increase your “strategy inclusivity” — enabling your organization to be participants in the strategy, rather than confused observers. This inclusivity requires:
- An objective, organizing framework, common terminology, and ‘measuring sticks’. No, the 10 “priority objectives” aren’t enough. The objectives must be prioritized, and a clear measuring stick must be created for each so that the mid-level managers know how to gauge their alignment. Though simple in concept, this is difficult in practice — but well worth it. It clears the smoke from the room and truly aligns the leaders with those asked to implement the strategy on a daily basis. Note: It also forces the leaders to ensure that they are clear on the strategy.
- Willingness to be transparent and encourage participation. A very interesting thing happens when an organization’s senior leaders seek inputs from lower levels. At first, they may be wary and cautious of how the strategy is impacted by letting more people inside the tent — “What if I lose control over my strategy?” Over time, however, the leaders should see that — in aggregate — the organization’s lower level inputs don’t turn the ship around. When done right and applied consistently, strategy inclusivity can result in relatively minor, but impactful adjustments to the strategy. These minor course corrections increase the chances that you will know where you stand as an organization with respect to implementing strategic objectives.
If you want your organization to be on the same page, across the hierarchy, with respect to priorities and expectations, don’t just send OUT the strategy with the hope that the team will figure it out. They will most certainly figure something out, but the odds that it is well aligned with your intentions are slim. Instead, bring the organization IN to the strategy. It takes strategy discipline, more effort up front and more time to communicate with the organization — but it ultimately drives buy-in, true teamwork, engaged managers, organizational alignment and much higher possibility of achieving your objectives.