Great strategy but nothing is moving?

Great strategy but
nothing is moving?

Make a clear distinction
between What and How!

A couple of months ago, I attended an excellent strategy session. The entire executive team shared this excitement after realizing the potential they still had ahead of them. They could hardly wait to get into that brave new world that would benefit all of them! Towards the end of the meeting, the chairman, however, made it clear that the outcome was highly confidential as otherwise, competitors may soon know about the ambition and direction of the organization.

Management assumes ‘what’ and ‘how’ is clear

On Monday morning, staff came to one of the executives asking questions on how the session went as there was a lot of whispers on the importance of this meeting. She explained that it was very positive and highly inspirational but that at this stage she was not allowed to talk about it. Weeks went by and after approving the minutes of the meeting, an extremely watered down summary was shared with staff and nothing changed.
In my view, the crucial mistake that is being made here is that management assumes that once the ‘What’ question is clear, the ‘How’ question will automatically follow. That is however not applicable to competitors nor to employees so let’s have a closer look at two assumptions that probably need some correction.

A good strategy is leveraging on strength

The first assumption is that explaining to a broader audience ‘What’ the future organization will look like, will allow competitors to get their quicker. This logic can be doubted as a good strategy is leveraging on unique strengths and should therefore not be that easy to copy. It also assumes that the competition will not have their own strategy session and just copy-paste whereas in reality they probably want to be different and develop a distinctive proposition. The biggest mistake, in summary, is the assumption that explaining the ‘What’ also gives a clear roadmap on the ‘How’ which is never the case.

Employees need to understand the strategic direction

The second assumption is that employees can get inspired and have a clear picture on ‘How’ to change and develop without even knowing the ‘What’ of the strategy. Even more than executive management, employees need the inspiration that comes from a well communicated clear and appealing strategy. If they do not see the purpose, understand what their benefit will be or get an idea how they can contribute, then it is very unlikely that they will buy-in. Employees need to understand the strategic direction to know what is expected and be able to to see for themselves how they can contribute.

As a result of poorly communicating the strategy, many organizations have missed the opportunity to create staff-excitement, getting their buy-in and ideas for implementing the strategy which could, in the end, result in a failed strategy implementation. It is the responsibility of management to explain what the long-term strategy means for the organisation for over 10 years, in 3 years and even what it should like in the next 12 months. Once this What question is clear and endorsed, staff should immediately be involved in coming up with some ideas on the ‘How’ of implementing the short-term strategic goals. Empowerment is allowing people that have to do the work to give input on how the work should be done.

Implementing is as important as developing

Developing a strategy is important but it is recommended to agree upfront on how implementing the strategy will take place even before developing the strategy. It’s not efficient to give a lower priority to the implementation or to assume that people that were not present at the strategic meeting should take ownership for implementation without proper engagement. Once an organization realizes that the ‘What’ question can be filled in by Management but the ‘How’ question always needs engagement with employees, much faster implementation of new strategies and new developments can be expected.

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