Do Your Employees Understand Strategy At All?

When expecting your staff to execute strategy, are you sure that they understand what you are talking about?

I’ve been thinking about mechanisms to improve the execution of strategy.  If nothing else, this involves communication of the strategy (posters, emails, the occasional management seminar) and linking to KPIs (and the associated dashboards).  The idea is that employees will be motivated by the KPIs to achieve the organisations grand strategy (this is a gross simplification and totally disregards structure and culture).  But, if this doesn’t work, where do the problems lie?

Poor strategy execution usually ends with blaming the KPIs, or the managers for poor communication, or structure, culture, environment, but I think something is missing, which is a basic understanding of strategy constructs and strategic planning for all employees who are tasked with its implementation (therefore pretty well everyone).  My reasoning is simple:

We wouldn’t dream of letting an employee drive a forklift without training on its operation, yet staff are expected to drive strategy without any training at all.

Without the great majority of decision making staff possessing an understanding of strategic planning principles, I don’t see how any organisation is going to really achieve breakout results. Communication of strategy is I think the #1 goal of strategic leadership, yet strategy is almost always communicated in notoriously subjective strategy parlance.  Tools like strategy maps aren’t saviours either, I love strategy maps, but the first step in training a business database user is not to show them a table schema diagram.

So, when you have a strategy to communicate, and you want your staff to understand, what do you do?  Training

Have your strategy savvy staff, MBA trained managers or even the CEO (Andy Grove held a phenominal amount of training sessions at Intel) take your staff through some short courses on strategy, here are some good ideas to start:

  • Buy a good entry level book on strategy (Financial Times guide to strategy by Richard Koch is am awesome example) and convert it into a short course to run over a few afternoons.
  • If you use a mainstream framework that is published (balanced scorecard/strategy maps, integrated choices), have a series of training sessions where you discuss the original paper or book that this comes from (great case material abounds, like your company!).
  • If you have someone who is up to it, a history of corporate strategy session is always useful to get people thinking about strategy.
  • Finally, strategy has its own technical language, which to complicate things nobody follows in the exact same way.  Construct a taxonomy of strategy terms for your organisation and train your staff in it.  Include it as a glossary to ALL strategic plans.

Most universities and professional bodies (like the AIM in Australia) will have short courses or executive training on strategic planning which is another great source way of getting your baseline training up, although I’m really a big fan of branded corporate training.  It makes the teachers clarify their thoughts, allows you to create materials that reflect your organisation, and admittedly can be a bit cheaper (but remember opportunity costs!).