Business Growth & Strategy

Employee Engagement In Strategy: Execution Won’t Succeed Without It

When working with organizations to develop strategy and help them implement strategic plans, it inevitably becomes a challenge to get executive management to open up their closed group and engage the rest of their organization with the planning process. Usually CEOs and their top-ranking executive team members feel that they are doing well at employee involvement, when in fact they are doing poorly…even within their own small group. Failing to embrace that strategic planning is a team sport devalues the outcome. This article addresses the challenge businesses face in engaging their employees in strategy and how crucial that engagement is when they attempt to execute their strategic plan.

Get Real

Strategies that fail to deliver during execution are often built upon flawed logic and / or incorrect underlying assumptions. That is where employee engagement can help. Employees offer a vast amount of business knowledge that can be leveraged during strategic planning. That knowledge can fuel the  planning process during the current-state analysis and future-state operational planning phases.

Strategic planning requires “real” information related to questions like:

–  What is working well?
–  What is not working so well?
–  What are our organizational vulnerabilities?
–  Where are there untapped opportunities?

To get to this information straight from the source that knows it best, employees must be engaged in the strategic planning process as early as the current-state analysis. This is where most companies make a big mistake. The executive team pulls into a shell to “meet” about the strategic plan and routinely locks out key people from the process that might well have contributed beneficial ideas and information. This is not done intentionally of course. It is done out of habit and expediency.  “Let’s get the executives and their managers into planning sessions and get this done…”.

It is unfortunate, but closed loop thinking like this often hatches flawed strategies as a result of executive management groupthink. “Happy talk” takes control and the management team convinces themselves that the business is doing relatively well…oblivious to threats and issues awaiting them in the near future. The planning process requires business “truth” to actually produce a valuable result.

Disengaged Employees Create A Change Management Nightmare

Employee engagement during the planning process helps in other ways beyond the information they can provide. The article “Corporate Strategy: Batteries Not Included” addressed how implementing corporate strategy is dependent upon the energy, dedication, hard work and faith of an organization’s employees. Simply stated, a considerable amount of energy is required to drive strategies to fruition – and that energy must be generated from within the organization.

In practical terms this means energizing and inspiring people to get them emotionally involved in the success of the organization’s strategic changes. Instead of engaging employees in the process of strategic planning and building that emotional involvement, businesses pummel their employee’s enthusiasm for the project by excluding them from the process and not telling them what is happening. If management elects to “require” the employees of the organization to blindly trust in the strategy they adopted and the changes they want implemented, although they haven’t fully explained the transformation and the reasons behind it – trouble awaits.

The changes and the reasons behind it might seem quite obvious to those who have the inside information and are part of the management inner circle. To the disengaged employees outside of the circle, however; the changes cause disruption, discomfort and anxiety.

So What Type Of Reality Check Is Needed?

Operational Realism: Businesses need the discipline of a planning process that structures an analysis of operations that allows the organization’s employees to provide input into the planning process. This action engages employees and is especially beneficial in helping executives have a better understanding of today’s reality across the business. That dose of operational reality is essential to constructing meaningful strategy and planning realistic execution. Getting to business truth even extends beyond the organization to include engaging key suppliers, distributors, channel partners and customers in aspects of the planning process.

Cultural Realism: Business truth includes understanding not only operational issues facing the business, but also more subtle disconnects and problems not so easily detected – yet equally important. Understanding culture is understanding “Who are we as a company, really?”

Culture is defined by what members of the organization, and the organization as a whole, do to create success. Culture is about an organization’s core values and how members define acceptable and unacceptable behavior. In planning, a clear understanding of culture provides a framework for understanding the “What, Why and How” work gets completed.

Value Proposition Realism: A value proposition can be thought of as a set of market promises based on capability and credibility, that helps prospective customers understand how the companyʼs offering uniquely addresses specific problems, opportunities and challenges. Testing the internal perception of organization’s value proposition at different levels of the organization provides yet another form of business truth. It indicates where there is consistency, where there are disconnects and if value is being communicated to the marketplace effectively.

Core Competency Realism: Companies must realistically assess their core competencies because they are the underpinnings of the organization’s skills and the cornerstone of successful strategic execution. They represent the fundamental knowledge, abilities and expertise of an organization. True ability to understand and measure organizational core competencies is a critical factor in reaching strategic goals.

Industry Realism: Understanding the company’s position in the market place is essential. Competitive analysis is the last “business truth” this article will address. Now more than ever, business leaders must clearly understand the directional flow of their industry and plan for transitions and consolidations that may be occurring now or are on the horizon. Data must be gathered from managers and employees in sales, marketing, customer service, supply-chain and other areas of the business in order to gain true visibility into the organization’s industry and market sectors. This information can be used in techniques like 5-Forces to analyze threats such as: substitute products, established rivals and new entrants. Likewise, this analysis of the industry ecosystem can help in examining “vertical” pressures related to the bargaining power of suppliers and the bargaining power of customers.

What Should Be Occurring To Engage Employees In Strategy

For small organizations, face-to-face interviews can be used to extract information from employees. They appreciate the opportunity to give their input and the data is valuable to the planning process, creating a win-win. Surveys are an excellent instrument for large, geographically dispersed organizations. Surveys can be translated into any language necessary, delivered online  and structured to collect very specific data. For areas of an organization where Internet availability is an issue, workstations can be setup in plants or shop floors to allow those employees access.

Remember, every employee implements the new strategy in their day-to-day operations. A key aspect of the planning process is aligning communication with the business to ensure the strategy is executed. Everyone in the organization must fully believe that their actions are relevant to the accomplishment of the business’s mission and strategic objectives. This involvement includes all executive management, senior managers and employees; but it also extends to customers, vendors, partners, investors and even boards of directors. Organizations must communicate openly and honestly about their strategy in order to energize and motivate employees and to achieve buy-in to the company’s mission.

Read more about:

Culture
Core values
Core competencies
Competitive analysis

Category: Business Growth & Strategy

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About the Author: Joe Evans

Since 2006, Joe Evans has been President & CEO of Method Frameworks, one of the world's leading strategy and operational planning management consultancies. The firm provides services for a diverse field of clients, ranging …

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