One of the “holy grails” of internal communication is getting every employee – regardless of their role – to understand their company’s strategy and how their daily interactions contribute to it, positively or negatively. Informed employees make their companies 17% more productive*, but only 5% of U.S. employees say they understand their company’s strategy**, leaving massive room for improvement.
In our work helping companies communicate proactively and intentionally with their employees – many for the first time – lack of understanding about strategy comes up constantly. Employees tell us, “I’m sure we have a strategy, but I couldn’t tell you what it is;” and “I’m a people manager and I’m not totally sure about the strategy myself, much less how to talk about it with my team.”
When we share this feedback with our clients, it can be discouraging for them to hear, but it also represents an incredible opportunity. Our clients come to us because they’ve been growing and experiencing success and know they need to engage their employees differently to maintain momentum. If they’ve managed to do that well without their employees understanding the strategy, just imagine how much more they can accomplish when all of their employees are aligned and rowing in the same direction!
Here's some insight on how we partner with our clients to turn this challenge into an opportunity – and how you can, too:
Involve employees in the creation. The fact is, many companies don’t have a clearly articulated strategy in the first place. There are incredible experts who specialize in guiding companies to create strong strategies (we’re happy to share our favorites with you – just ask!). Our advice to clients who need to work on their strategy is to include employees in that process. They know your customers, products and processes best. And involving employees speaks volumes about how much you value them and will help them buy in to the final product. Most companies miss this – don’t be one of them!
Help managers become ambassadors. Once you have a clear strategy to communicate, spend time helping your people managers understand it first. Many companies expect middle management to blindly accept the strategy and happily translate it for their teams, but this isn’t how human nature works. We must first get managers on board by addressing their objections and answering their questions before we can expect them to authentically carry the message forward to their employees. Then, managers will put the strategy into context for their teams and help them understand how they directly contribute to it, so provide resources that support them to do this.
Communicate constantly. Once established, your strategy should be a central focal point in much of your ongoing communication to employees. It should be the foundation of executive team updates to the company, such as during all-employee town halls, and in leadership meetings to help managers stay current and understand how to share it with their teams. We’ve found one great way to do this is by creating a “strategy graphic,” which boils the key elements of the strategy into a clear, relatively simple visual. Employees are more likely to remember an image, and the graphic becomes a quick visual cue that can be used whenever executives or managers talk about the strategy. These can be incredibly effective – for example, the Corporate Executive Board (now Gartner) reports that employees at Aviva increased their understanding of company strategy from 51% to 86% after rolling out their strategy graphic***.
Your employees bring the strategy to life – treat them that way. Your employees truly are your most valuable asset. They’ll help you accomplish your strategy, or not. Take care to treat them well every day. See our previous blogs about Putting People First and Making Every Day Employee Appreciation Day for many more tips on how to do this effectively.
Are you ready to engage and retain your employees through proactive, intentional communication? Get in touch – we can help!
*Gallup State of the American Workplace Report
**The Strategy Focused Organization by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
***Aligning Employees with Company Strategy by the Corporate Executive Board (now Gartner) Communications Leadership Council