When your organization’s very foundation is built on the commitment to being boldly authentic and passionate about breaking down barriers in order to get to the heart of any issue, an incredibly high bar is set for its leaders to live that foundation every day in everything that they do.
As you can imagine, we’ve had to face that high bar many times here at Fierce over the years, but this year was different for me in particular. That’s because this year is my first as President of our organization.
One of the first areas I needed to tackle was developing a strategy for 2019 — something I was eager and excited to jump into, but also recognizing there was a lot at stake. There is an incredible amount of weight put on myself and my fellow leaders’ ability to align what is most important to our people and clients while making sure we can truly do what we say we will and live our own values.
When it came time to sit down and plan our strategy, logically, we kept our strategic and futuristic lens in mind while we developed the operational and tactical plans. However, the one area we made sure to prioritize was the impact our people will ultimately have on our strategy’s success.
Yes, you read that right.
Our people — along with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions — are prioritized right up there next to objectives, measures, and targets.
Why you might ask? Because at the end of the day, I know that our strategy and company goals live or die based on whether our people understand, embrace, and execute them. And I would argue the same applies to you, whether you are leading a company strategy or your own life’s strategy.
WHY PEOPLE MATTER
According to Bridges Business Consulting, 80 percent of leaders feel their company is good at crafting strategy but only 44 percent feel the same about the way it is implemented. That is a significant drop in confidence from start to finish, which begs the obvious question: What takes place between planning and implementation that causes things to go awry?
Here is an even more stunning statistic that should ring the alarm bell: Only 2 percent of leaders are confident that they will achieve 80 to 100 percent of their strategy’s objectives.
All those long, stressful days and nights figuring out where to focus, where to invest, and coming up with the perfect plan, all to admit the results will never live up to their full potential.
So once again this begs that big, obvious question: What is happening between ideation and execution of a strategy that leads to so much loss in confidence, and ultimately goals falling short?
I strongly believe that these failings come down to people, and leaders underestimating the power of compelling and consistent conversations throughout all stages of a strategy.
So how can you ensure your employees understand the strategy, their role in making it happen and get excited to watch it unfold? Conversations are at the heart of all of this.
Can you and your leaders confidently say your employees understand your vision? If you’re struggling to come up with an answer to this question, know that this isn’t a unique problem.
An astonishing 95 percent of employees don’t understand their organizations’ strategy, according to Balanced Scorecard Collaborative.
This is a big problem.
We’ve seen time and time again with our clients that when employees don’t understand their organization’s strategy and goals, and when they are left out of critical conversations, they begin to feel a lack of purpose and passion for their organization. If your employees start feeling this way and don’t have the skills to speak up and raise their concerns, they will simply stop caring, or leave the organization altogether.
Here at Fierce, we aren’t immune. We have missed the mark on the conversations needed in the past, and when this has happened, we’ve done our very best to quickly own up to those mistakes and learn from them.
None of us are perfect, and ultimately, no one expects us to be. However, we must engage with one another, and that is a two-way street.
For example, last year we launched a strategy that some key employees felt did not hold up to our standards, and that some items felt off. Luckily, they had the skills, and courage, to come to me and share their concerns. I am forever thankful for them.
I immediately spoke with leaders to investigate and determine if the course we were on was the right one, or if we needed to rethink things. It made all of us think harder about the problems we were trying to solve, then we brought more people into the decision-making process, and ultimately it did make a difference in our direction.
Often, a strategy will shift when people speak up, but not always. Your job as a leader is to communicate and share – engage in the conversation and ensure no matter what the decision is, that your employees understand where you are coming from. This alone will make a huge difference in your success.
PUTTING CONCEPTS TO ACTION
So, what can you do to bring a focus on your people into your business strategies, to help ensure greater success? Here are a few tips that will make a difference:
MAKE CONVERSATIONS A PRIORITY
One of the most important actions you need to take is making time for conversations to happen regularly – at the beginning of the process, as decisions are being made and when the strategy is in place.
At Fierce, once we had our strategy set, we implemented “strategy office hours” to encourage people to have a dialogue about the “why” and “how” with our strategy. We wanted people to know how their roles impact the bigger picture, and leaders must be able to make those ties for them in order for strategic alignment to be successful.
Yes, that is going to mean more meetings and one-on-ones with employees and other leaders at the organization.
Before you balk at the idea of adding more meetings to your schedule, let me ask you this question: Would you rather have fewer meetings now, but be forced to have unexpected meetings when employees have questions or things go array as the year progresses?
I for one would much prefer meetings up front, then waiting until things fall apart. Preparing and consistently making time for conversations will give your strategy a much better chance of being successful. Imagine no longer running around trying to put out fires throughout the year and instead having that time back to focus on implementing your plans.
Ownership conversations must take place as a part of any successful planning process. I have seen so many leaders fail even though they have strong relationships because they do not clearly communicate their expectations or the roles they see their employees having.
Ownership conversations and expectations can also save a great deal of time. I've worked with a leadership team that was continuously checking with each member before executing, and spinning near constant cycles that were just not necessary. Projects were stalled and middle management was frustrated, viewing the senior leadership team as incapable of making decisions.
This had effects on employee experience and confidence. Once we helped them establish processes to identify clear ownership and empower their employees to make decisions, the constant checking in was no longer necessary.
Today, they are focused on creating more clarity and sharing with their teams as appropriate. The mere step of moving towards some form of ownership clarity created momentum in the team and the company.
It is important to note, however, that ownership clarity is an ongoing conversation – not a one and done situation. We need to be constantly thinking about how different departments work together and how decisions are made.
At Fierce, we are currently engaging in this exercise to create additional clarity. Teams and organizations are fluid, and as thus, ownership must be evaluated regularly along with any other components of strategy – measures, targets, completion.
With this in mind, it is critical to get feedback on a strategy from many different audiences: those who are tasked with implementing, those whose processes are affected, and even clients who would be directly impacted.
How often do you do this?
When you take the time to think about all parties affected by your strategy within an organization, and how to bring them into the conversation —success will follow, I guarantee it, as long as you take what you learn to heart.
Not only will you get viewpoints they may never have gotten if you hadn’t invited more perspectives to the table, but the relationships formed from those conversations will also be enriched for the better.
The bottom line is that people matter. It’s easy to take an incredible team for granted and assume they grasp every aspect of the strategy, just because you do.
Taking the time and effort to have the right conversations, with the right people and the right time isn’t always easy, but making an effort will pay dividends in the long run.
Interested in learning more about how to transform your leaders into better versions of themselves? In this blog post, our president discusses easy steps a leader can take to challenge the status quo and start getting the business results they crave.