One of the biggest concerns I hear from business leaders is that their people fail to implement quickly enough. They complain that too much time is spent planning, when most of success is implementation.
There are concerns that employees tasked with implementation are not making decisions fast enough and, consequently, are not acting on decisions with the proper urgency. When leaders attempt to make sense of this, they often assume that employees don’t want to stand out.
They’re missing the problem entirely.
The Real Problem
The failure is in the strategic planning process itself. Senior leaders spend copious amounts of time creating the strategic plan, often in isolation. When they return with a plan in hand, they double-down on their time expenditure, seeking “buy-in” from their team. In other words, the strategy is foisted upon employees, who are then tasked with implementing it — without understanding the nuances and debates that went into its creation.
It’s natural that when the implementers hit a roadblock, they have a hard time moving forward because they’re missing crucial information. They weren’t exposed to the alternatives discussed and discarded. They don’t have the “whys” inherent in the plan and, as a result, Plan B is time-consuming to construct and vet. This delay results in a loss of time, money, and opportunity.
Lessons in how to improve this process can be taken from the development and construction of a building. In the past, project owners hired architects to design the building, and those blueprints were handed to a contractor to build. More often than not, the contractor had to decipher and fix inconsistencies or inefficiencies that a lack of in-the-field experience may have led the architect to create.
After losing money and time to this ineffective process, the design charrette gained popularity. In these meetings, the owner, architect, and contractor come together to discuss the project. The person who will build the structure can offer his expertise on the most effective ways to achieve the owner’s goal, and the architect can include those in the blueprints. The involvement of the implementer — the contractor — streamlines the process enormously.
When the implementers of strategy are part of the process, they can not only add perspective to the plan, but they are also immersed in its tradeoffs and nuances. When the unexpected arises — and it always does — implementers can make course corrections quickly and powerfully.
Employees Drive Your Growth Strategy
By involving your employees in your strategizing, you’re preserving and protecting your business’s success. For their response to be nimble, they need more than marching orders. To do this effectively, keep these tips in mind:
Don’t pigeonhole HR. Your human resources department must contribute much more than benefits packages and compliance; they’re your source of talent acquisition. Don’t restrict and limit the department. Lead them to understand the people and skills necessary to achieve long-term goals.
Have high expectations for your management. Employee succession, retention, and development are the responsibilities of frontline managers. Leaders should be developing skills and transferring company and industry knowledge, as well as training future leaders. If they’re not doing their part to develop successful employees, even the best HR team won’t be able to retain talent.
See your people as people. When leaders attempt to make sense of people’s capabilities, they tend to simplify their complexity. This leads to a reduced view of humans, with managers simply seeing staff as expenditures, resources, or sets of competencies. Effective motivation comes from providing meaning and value that is personal.
To truly integrate the development of your employees and your business strategy, try incorporating the following:
Let passion drive strategy. Employees should be included throughout the strategy development process, and there’s plenty of space to engage everyone in the company at an appropriate level. For a better outcome, elicit input from frontline employees, and delve into how their customer interactions and commitment to quality can become benchmarks of training.
Get employees behind leadership. Ensuring your employees are enthusiastic about improving the company is essential. Doing this requires transparency, trust, and mutual respect. Too often, senior teams retreat to offsite resorts to develop strategy, only to return and force it upon the rest of the company. Employees rarely buy into a complete product — “The Strategy” — in one gulp. Give employees the opportunity to find something they can fall in love with by engaging them in the process.
Talk with your team. Share and discuss the industry, competitive environment, vendor relationships, and dynamic customer characteristics that drive your business with every department in your team. Be honest about company performance, challenges, and wins. Welcome genuine input and tough questions. In a recent study I conducted, more than 60 percent of senior leaders felt their managers had insufficient strategic acumen. Take the time to build it.
It can be scary for senior teams to consider including “the whole company” in their strategy development process, and it does takes courage. For example, Google’s weekly, no-holds-barred, all-hands meeting requires the courage of its entire senior team. It’s a brave thing for the founders to offer transparency to their team. But this marriage of people and strategy makes Google one of the most sought-after — and valuable — employers on the planet. By making people part of your strategy, you’ll guarantee your own company’s success as well.