Whose strategy is it anyway?

Most organisations spend a fair amount of time each year at senior management level thinking about the future. This will almost certainly involve thinking about next year in commercial terms (sometimes referred to as “business planning”). If they are more adventurous, they will be thinking about 3 to 5 years ahead in terms of more than just commercial factors (e.g. customers, markets, products & services, employees, processes etc)

I spend a lot of my time helping leadership teams carry out this longer term, holistic strategic thinking. A question that I am often asked is “now that we have agreed our business strategy, how can we get our people excited by it and understanding how they can contribute to it”

In the past, the answer to this question was often to develop a system of cascading personal & team objectives that dovetailed into the strategy. Two significant drawbacks with this approach are the time it takes to get to the frontline, and because the strategy is effectively being dissected, it is easy to lose sight of the overall strategy at a local level (wood for the trees argument). Finally, in my experience this approach rarely gets people excited about the organisation and where it is heading.

My starting point in trying to answer the question is based on a few key principles:

Developing strategy does not have to be the preserve of the leadership team

  • People are not necessarily stupid and may actually understand the business strategy if explained to them
  • If they understand the strategy and are encouraged to do so, they can work out how their work can contribute to the strategy being achieved
  • One thing that senior managers and front line staff have in common is that they both like communications to be simple & straightforward. In my experience, the only level who might enjoy complexity is the middle management layer, some of whom I sometimes think generate complexity for its own sake!

Based on these principles, I encourage organisations to…

  1. Have the leadership team develop the business strategy headlines (overall vision, strategic objectives and a balanced scorecard of key performance indicators (KPIs)). Then engage the next level down in suggesting targets for the KPIs and possible action plans. All of this is usually workshopped in teams
  2. Have all of the above outputs on one page! – the “one pager” business strategy
  3. Cascade communicate the “one pager” to all staff face to face in their intact work teams. Include discussion on how the work team can & will contribute directly and indirectly to the realisation of the strategy

If you follow these guidelines, the answer to “whose strategy is it?” might just be “ours” rather than “theirs”

Article by Rob Garner – Blue Alumni