In this episode of The Chemical Show, host Victoria Meyer explores the topic of strategy execution and the common pitfalls organizations face. Victoria discusses the necessity of involving the entire organization in the strategy process to ensure understanding and alignment. Citing a recent study conducted by Harvard Business Review, Victoria highlights the significant gap between executives’ perception of strategic alignment and employees’ actual understanding.

Learn more about the following in this episode:

  • Challenges in Vision and Strategy DevelopmentĀ 
  • Risks of Top Down Strategy
  • Gap in Executive and Employee Strategic Alignment Understanding
  • 4 Approaches to Overcoming the Strategy Disconnect
  • Why Employee Engagement is Critical to Strategy Development

Victoria emphasizes the importance of engaging employees in the strategy setting process in order to drive buy-in and shared context. Discussing the risks of not getting the vision and strategy right, especially in the ever-changing post-pandemic world, Victoria offers compelling approaches to engaging employees and overcoming strategy disconnect.

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Additional links:

Harvard Business Review: Is Your Company as Strategically Aligned as You Think It Is?


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Achieving Results Through Strategic Alignment

In this episode, we’re talking about the importance of engaging your employees to create strategic success. Now, on Episode 112, I talked about the importance of engaging your customers early to help derisk your strategy and ensure your success, whether it be entering a new market or building an asset.

On today’s episode, we’re turning it a bit inward. What I’m talking about today is the importance of engaging your employees early and bringing them into your strategic decisions. One of the biggest challenges for executives across all industries is developing a vision and a strategy that their organization understands, embraces, and executes upon, ultimately driving shareholder value. In a post pandemic world, the need for strategic change has intensified and accelerated. We are being buffeted by influences that we talk about a lot on The Chemical Show. Geopolitics, inflation, a drive towards sustainability, circularity and going green, shifting business models, digitization, and talent challenges are just a few. All of these require a robust vision and strategy for your next decade and more. A vision that we take and we understand and embrace from the top of the organization to the bottom. Without getting this right, companies and executives risk losing market share, people and profits. And this is a challenge, right?

Many companies today and for a long time have embraced a top down strategy and execution through metrics. In measurement it can risk your business performance because it masks some of the underlying issues of the organization and what it means when they don’t fully understand and embrace the new business strategy. This is a blind spot. It is a blind spot for executives because for decades you’ve been told that you alone are responsible for strategy and the rest of the organization is about execution. So think about this, we’ve got chief strategy officers who are often disconnected from the organization. Or as a business leader, whatever your title, VP, president, executive, director, business leader, you’re charged with strategy for your business and your division. Often we think that it requires confidentiality, and sometimes it does. We often think that it’s on our shoulders alone or on the shoulders of just a small group of trusted advisors. It is and it isn’t. However, what ends up happening is that we create strategy in isolation without bringing the organization along. And when we don’t bring the organization along, it’s doomed.

So execution, which is the most critical part of every strategic exercise, without full understanding, alignment, and buy in from your organization, from the people and your teams, is doomed to fail. It’s only when leaders engage the broader organization early in the strategic process to co-create strategy and the metrics, that true strategic change is possible and that you can really accelerate your results. So a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review showed a gap of 59%, which is shocking, between what executives believed to be the strategic alignment and what employees actually understood about the strategy, it’s execution, and how they were intended to interact with that. Even amongst executives and executive teams, there’s a disconnect. If there is a 59%, let’s just call it 60% gap in understanding, it’s going to be hard to get 100% of your results.

I think one of the challenges, as I’ve already talked about, is that strategy is often a top down exercise owned by the leadership team and created by a small group. Those individuals are vastly familiar with it. In fact, they’ve forgotten some elements of what they knew about it, but they know it, they understand it, they understand its intricacies. Yet they take it out to the organization, whether it be in a large or a small fashion, and they spend a couple of hours, maybe one day, maybe three days engaging with their organization on something that took three plus months to create. Is it any wonder there’s a disconnect? What I find interesting is that studies show that adults need to hear something seven times before they fully understand it and remember it. So it is no surprise at all to me, and it should be of no surprise to you, that if we’re doing a one and done rollout your key employees and leaders don’t understand your strategy and its goals. Therefore they can’t execute upon them and achieve results.

I personally have seen this many times myself as I go in and work with companies and leaders who are really stumped in trying to figure out why they aren’t getting this execution. Why aren’t they getting the strategy results that they’re trying to get? When often they’ve developed a vision. They’ve developed what they see as a strategy that they want to use to take their organization forward for the next 3, 5, or 10 years. And they don’t understand why the organization is not embracing it, why they’re not moving more quickly, why it feels like there’s resistance, and why they’re not seeing results. One of the first questions I like to ask is, have you rolled this out to the organization? Do your people understand the strategy? Inevitably, yes.

Although, remember this Harvard Business Review study, executives think their organization understands, but there is a huge gap, a 60% gap. Because I ask the executives and they say, “Yep, everybody understands it. It’s been rolled out.” And then I go and I ask employees across the organization, including senior leaders, “Have you seen this new strategy? Do you understand it?” The answers range from, “No, I’ve never seen it.” to “Oh, I saw it just once, we had a lunch meeting about it.” or “Oh, is that what it was?” There is disconnect, and that doesn’t have to be the case because strategic disconnect means lack of strategic results. Strategy is successfully executed when team members really understand the goals, the context, and the outcomes desired and can tie their own personal activities, their team’s activities and initiatives and goals to support that strategy.

So how do you do that? There’s a lot of different approaches on this, but I’m going to tackle just four things.

Number one, create shared context. There is a reason you as a leader are implementing and driving a new vision, a new strategy, or maybe the same one just refined a little bit more. There’s a reason behind it. You have to create that shared context though, so that everybody understands the reason behind it and where you’re going. How do you do that? Make it personal and relevant for your team members. Bring key team members into the strategy setting process early to provide input, to create that shared context, and ultimately let those leaders help identify optimal steps and directions that their teams need to take to achieve the strategy. By the way, when I’m talking about leaders, this is not necessarily just about title. It’s also about influencers in your organization, whatever their job description may be, you know who they are. In every organization there are people that are leaders and influencers regardless of title. Engage them, understand them, help bring them into your strategy and your strategy setting process to create context and ownership.

Why do we do that? Number one, it builds buy in. Number two, it creates ambassadors. It’s great to have people across the organization say, “Yes, I know where we’re going and what we’re doing. Come along with me.” You need a team of people to do that. It also helps you identify risks and alternatives, because you think and you see things from different perspectives. So if you think about it like a Rubik’s Cube, everybody you bring in has a different flavor on it and a different insight, and bringing those insights in makes your strategy more robust and collaborative.

Number two, make strategy execution the job. First of all, this could be a true, legit role that one specific person has of implementing that strategy and executing it. But the other piece is making sure it’s clearly part of people’s goals, that they have time allocated, that they have incentives allocated to that work. It can’t be an add on. It might have to be an add on, but you also have to reflect depending on the degree of change involved. You need to create space and accountability for people to execute upon that strategy.

The third thing, make it relevant. Studies have shown that when you focus on customer value and when you can create a story about how this new strategic implementation, this strategy, this approach, drives customer value and shareholder value, people buy in. Focus on impact, impact to customers, impact to your employees. When you create that focus on customer value, on employee value, on shareholder value, strategic alignment results and your financial and fundamental results increase dramatically.

Then the fourth thing, make it continuous. Strategy is not a one and done exercise. Strategy, communication and engagement is not a one and done. Again, studies show that individuals need to hear something 7 times before they truly understand it, remember it, and then can take action upon it. So engage your employees. Get them to the point where they say, “Aha! I get it, I understand it, I feel like I’ve been included, I feel like I can embrace this strategy and I know what my role in doing this is.” It is only when everyone across your company engages with and understands your strategy and their role in it, that true results occur.

So that is my message for you today. I would love to hear from you. If you are challenged with getting your strategy executed, reach out to me. Let’s have a conversation and talk about how we can come in and help support that to get more engagement, more realization and more results out of your strategy. Thanks for reading The Chemical Show today. Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing and we will talk to you again soon.