Even the best strategy will not add value to the company until it is used – carried out in real life – and before that can happen, people must understand what it is about. Communicating (selling) your intentions, ideas, values, and strategies just might be the most important thing you do at higher management levels – should that be reserved for strategy seminars and by-weekly management meetings?
Looking for clues
Employees on all levels look for messages in everything the top management does. We have all seen it. The chatter in the hallway after a meeting, where someone says “I’m sure he meant…”, “He said it slowly and very carefully worded, it must be important”, “What do you think the point was?” People look for leadership. If you are an even half ambitious employee (or just someone looking to keep your job), you will want to know and understand what management thinks, in order to be able to do a good job. That is why they will look for clues in what is said, what isn’t said, how it is said, who said it … (I’m sure you get the point).
We sometimes tend to forget how much the little things matter. You are about to start an important meeting, your manager is late, steps in and says “I can only spend 10 minutes”. Chances are you will get the message – this is not as important as today’s other meetings. When the boss stops by your office, pops his head in and says “great job last week” – will that do it for you? I bet you will make an extra effort, because you know it is important and appreciated. You could argue that this is just basic leadership – agreed! Try and imagine what this could do for your strategy.
Strategy – simple or complex?
Compared to everyday motivational leadership explaining strategy is often considered complex or even long-winded. But honestly, if even you can’t explain your strategy, you will need more tailwind than Vestas on a calm day to make it work. In other words the ‘but-it’s-very-complex-and-difficult-to-grasp-excuse’ just won’t fly. Communicating your strategy starts when you add the strategic angle – the strategic sell – to everything you do.
Be the strategic voice
I attended a weeklong seminar with the US last fall. All the briefers (US generals) started their presentations by stating exactly how their command support the deployed units (war fighters), and when a supporting officer mentioned how his staff needed inputs in a certain way he was promptly and politely corrected “you are there to support the war fighter, if your processes makes that difficult, you must change them.”. You could argue that this is not always right (which is true), but it sets the strategic agenda, it spells it out in a real situation.
Explain real life strategy
A very rough generalization is that most people grasp the idea of a strategy, but what it really means is often reserved for the few. This is where your organisation and employees needs help. Don’t repeat the sentences and carefully worded points from the strategic paper – if they got that already you wouldn’t need to guide them – explain how the strategy should be interpreted in this current case. Never give abstract examples, help interpret the practical situations, use different sentences and wordings, and as understanding rubs off you will rapidly expand the strategy’s circle of disciple.
Take proper aim
If you have ever fired anything resembling a weapon (just a dart or a bow at the summer fair) I bet you aimed first. I bet you didn’t aim in the general direction of the target but at bulls eye – because that where you wanted to hit! Don’t be satisfied with just hitting somewhere near to your strategic target… aim for bulls eye, take proper aim, and fire! Adding purpose to all the little things you do (meetings, mails, speeches, and even the quick one-on-one you are having at the coffee machine), and making them all part of your strategic effort, that is the strategic equivalent to aiming. Give it a shot, adding purpose just might get you that bulls eye.