“But we HAVE a strategic plan. Our goals for the next three years are right here in our document and resource deployment is spelled out in our budget. Why aren’t our teams making progress? I’ve sent email after email explaining exactly what I need and ask for weekly reports to update me on where they are on each goal. We watch our dashboards daily. Our strategy is sound. We’re just not getting where we want to be. We gave everybody a copy of the plan after the retreat so they could get started, but we’re just not seeing an uptick on engagement and implementation.”
Sound familiar? Distribution of information to those who have not been part of a process does not assist team members in gaining clarity that allows the new strategic environment to become the DNA of how they operate. Two days of selected leaders in a room together to identify new strategy – sometimes evolutionary and sometimes revolutionary – is followed by the leader responsible for the implementation returning to a company full of people who have no connection to what just happened. They might be very excited and full of anticipation, but if they aren’t brought fully into the new story, the translation will fail.
We tend to share “the what” and not “the why.” We fail to create the stories that link us to this new future. We need the internal stories that create champions and believers within our infrastructure, as well as the stories that connect our customers to a relevant future. In the absence of authoring the strategic stories, individuals’ interpretations of the plan they received get created. In other words, multiple inaccurate views of the future are authored, pick up steam with ever evolving co-authored versions circulating, and soon there is rampant misinformation. If allowed to continue, companies can literally be built upon a variety of internal frameworks with resources deployed that bear no relationship to the strategic direction. At its worst, time and money are wasted, reputation and brand suffer, strategic gossip breaks teams apart, and competitors can flourish.
If your subsequent meetings include, “I thought….” “Well, I thought….” “I didn’t realize…..,” your strategic retreat was useless. Clarity is not created by sharing a copy of the strategic plan (one page please – not a 50 page volume of research and tactics.) During your retreat, capture the strategic language that will underpin the messages to create understanding and buy-in for where you are headed and why. Segment the internal and external audiences and adjust the messages and language used to reach them, along with determining the communication channels most likely to reach them (and remember generational preferences.) Consider whether some of the messages need to be carried tactfully by a respected colleague or leader instead of a company-wide communication.
Your organization can conduct more research than ever before, reach new heights of innovative thinking, have the best minds gathered together for a strategic retreat, and fail to master your potential by the fatal assumption that everything is clear. If it takes seven times for a new message to reach people, what effort must we expend in order for new understanding to become aligned behaviors that lead to appropriate implementation? Clarity calls for leadership to be ever watchful for signs that culture, actions, and results make sense with “the what” and “the why” of our new strategic direction. If it’s not clear, it’s not clear.