It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Communication plays an indispensable role in the successful implementation of a business strategy. Conversely, a lack of clear, regular and pointed communication can pose an insurmountable barrier.
This was confirmed by respondents to a recent survey of LinkedIn connections, and the many unequivocal comments we received: “The strategy must be known and understood. Regular, clear, concise, and transparent updates must be well communicated.”
Several commented on the need for leaders to remember that the organization’s strategy is not top-of-mind with employees who have had little, possibly nothing, to do with its creation. “Communicate, communicate, communicate. The leaders of change are thinking about it 24/7 but often forget that much of the organization is not and that the change needs to be regularly and consistently reinforced with concrete examples of progress, goals and timelines.”
Employee support essential to successful implementation
The fact is, employees are much more productive when they feel included and part of the team. Unfortunately, based on the research we undertake at the front end of most strategic planning assignments, a high percentage are unaware of top management’s vision for the organization’s future. As a result, they are left wondering about the reason for certain projects or tasks, and why they are being asked to take on additional work.
Of necessity, a lot of the hard work involved in implementing a strategic plan falls to employees, many of whom are on the front line and in supporting roles. The importance of communicating not only what the strategy involves, but where the organization is heading, and why they are being asked to contribute, can transform a reluctant and skeptical workforce into a team of engaged collaborators. This was confirmed by comments like: “’Why are we doing this?’ is a question that’s frequently asked. When we can deal with this directly and bring the value to employees into the picture, there is a much greater chance of getting buy-in and support.” As one respondent pointed out, transparency and accountability go hand in hand. “The strategy must be known and understood before people reasonably become accountable, and regular, clear, concise, and transparent updates must be well communicated.”
Silos impede cross-functional communication
Communication doesn’t always flow in a straight line from the most senior in an organization to the most junior. Very often, important messages must be transmitted from one department or function to another. Unfortunately, silos can present a substantial barrier and challenge for those responsible for undertaking key projects. As one respondent put it, “…a major barrier can be poor cross-functional communication due to internal organizational silos. This leads to poor planning, delays in execution, [and a] lack of buy in, and adoption.”
From the executive suite on down, communcation is a shared responsibility
Effective communication should begin at the executive level and flow from there into all parts of the organization. Not as edicts from a corner office, but rather from leaders at all levels communicating with their staff and encouraging each to communicate with others as approrpiate. As one respondent reported, “Executives must understand why something’s being done, and then do a really good job of communicating this to stakeholders.” While, according to another, “Clarity at the executive level must come first. Then, how to communicate the strategy to stakeholders becomes critical.”
Chris Ward is a Co-founder and Principal with Strategic Retreats. Over the past 25 years he has facilitated business and brand strategies for professional services firms, industry and trade associations, charities and SMEs; and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews and dozens of online surveys for organizations of all types and sizes.