Executives continually point to the need for better execution of strategy; stated differently, few believe that their organizations do a good job of execution. In a 2005 survey, 197 large-company executives were asked about what needs to be improved most in strategy execution. The answer was,
Effectively communicate the decision(s) made as part of the strategy
Let’s face it: strategies are abstract. Statements of vision and strategic intent are descriptions of future states of the organization. The future is ambiguous. This makes it tough for the front line employees, customers, and other stakeholders to mentally grasp. It is hard to predict their response, but it cynicism and indifference are common reactions.
Here are three examples of where I have seen strategic decisions communicated in thoughtful ways.
- West Ohio Gas, a distributor of natural gas, decided to make its work force more agile by moving to self-managed teams. The leadership team carefully thought through the decision, hired consultants to teach new skills, and stood in front of small groups of employees to answer each question and concern. By the time they were done with this process, each employee had the information necessary to decide to support the new strategy, or look elsewhere (several chose to retire.)
- Domino’s Pizza senior management team needed to convince its franchisees that a new strategy was their support. The strategy involved the Pizza Turnaround, and is described in detail here. The new pizza would take slightly longer to make, use more important ingredients, and had a spicier taste. Franchisees were skeptical, but Domino’s executives had a strong statistical case about customer preferences, and also provided a blind taste test in the back of the room. Facts, especially when supported by other experiences, can help stakeholders get on board with the strategy.
- A CEO of an agri-business counseled his strategic initiative team to develop a message that the team’s actions were part of a back-office process improvement effort. He knew, though, that when the strategy started to “go live” it would set in place a chain of events that would cause some fundamental changes to the business model. He also knew that several powerful executives would fight the initiative if they understood the changes that would come (this large company was controlled by an extended family with cousins battling each other over ego needs). The messages needed to be consistent with existing values.
What’s the “program road map” for the strategic initiative?
Truly strategic decisions cause a cascade of other decisions. For example, if a company decides to enter a new market, it should cause a rethinking of the business value proposition.
My advice is commonsense: think through the consequences of the decision and how that decision impacts the stakeholders. Identify your stakeholders and understand how they will be affected. Communicate to them using benefits statements, and stories.
Be Cautious with Press Releases and Glossy Brochures
Hype can be good and effective. However, there is often a tendency for executives to overdo the PR with with slick messages. There’s a name for this: “cheap talk strategies.” They often create cynicism, so my advice is to test your messages out on small sample audiences and, again, think it through.
How have you seen strategic decisions communicated? What worked and what didn’t?
- A Simple Idea that Every Good Strategist Knows (leadingstrategicinitiatives.com)