Uncovering the Critical Crossing of Business Strategy with Employee Communications
The most important element of organizational success, health and sustainability is the accuracy and effectiveness of its strategy. CEOs are either lionized or lost in history based on how well the business was able to grow, prosper, evolve and/or develop. Developing and executing an organization’s business strategy at any given point in its evolution is by far the single most important skill a leader can bring to the table. Such self-awareness from an organizational perspective not only ensures that the entity moves forward in the most advantageous manner but also mitigates unnecessary decisions and costs associated with failing to do so. Furthermore, by clarifying where an organization is at a certain point, critical investments in staff, capabilities, communications and planning can be implemented at the right time.
The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” That said, how did he know what to create that would tickle consumers’ fancy? Could we say that Jobs had the ability to see around corners, to know what people would want several months hence – needs they themselves might not even be aware of? Or was he just paying attention to trends and inferred opportunities from where he saw those trends pointing? The ability to see into and predict the future is an ageless desire of humankind, the stuff of fiction and fantasy. Yet, the big winners in business are those who can seemingly do just that, the ones who can “see around the corners.” Despite what we might think, the ability to project how our business might evolve, though not on par with casting prophecies, is a discipline that can be acquired.
The Ignition – Communicating for Impact Internally
If business strategy is the key element of success, then employee involvement throughout its implementation beginning with igniting the effort is possibly the most critical imperative for a leader – the ability to bring coherence out of chaos for people who are inundated with corporate messaging and contradictory objectives.
So, why then are so many internal communications efforts riddled with non-important objectives, content, context and information? Or worse, why are they not even aligned with the business strategy and direction. Why are they created in a vacuum and linked to employee engagement or motivation without any real substance as the viability of the enterprise?
Today, employees are watching actions versus words. In effect, people are “working with the volume off.” To crack this code, leaders must employ a “discover versus sell” approach to managing and communicating business strategy with today’s employees. With growth a necessary reality, it’s both practical and critical to assess how leaders can create and sustain momentum in order to move forward. Is leadership continuously focusing on the future, maintaining a sense of urgency, testing the limits of individuals and teams, challenging their people and the status quo, embracing uncertainty and driving real and substantive change?
One of the most beneficial aspects of comprehending your organization’s strategy is that it allows you to frame initiatives, decisions and programs in a personal way. The result is that, as an individual, you can discern your contribution, make the arguments for decisions, and catalyze colleague engagement. I’ve unfortunately seen throughout my entire career this marginalization of internal communications by practitioners and business leaders alike.
Business strategy does not succeed without a willing, able and knowledgeable workforce immersed in the environment, competitive set, market conditions, strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities facing the organization. Period.
At the heart of the situation is comprehending the current reality both internally and externally. This is the power of data and analytics or discovering what people and markets are thinking and how they would react. As iconic hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Similarly, with internal communications, it’s about designing content, initiatives and programs, directing behaviors, guiding resources to ensure people have a sense of where they are and where they are headed. Like a chess game, it requires leaders to make moves today that will affect the way their world looks two or three iterations down the road.
Companies hoping to understand their evolution – and where the game will be played in the future – need to foster alignment among leadership, core management and communications. Each is an essential ingredient required to anticipate – and define – the future. From a communications perspective, knowing where a business is headed based on its strategic direction allows managers to better determine the real questions that need to be asked and answered involving relevance, credibility, competitive balance, resources and customer trends. Additionally, from the standpoint of communications as a system and corporate function, comprehending a business’ strategy must entail:
- A direct linkage to the business goals, objectives, targets, metrics and supporting efforts.
- Data, insight and information – context and content – on the various elements of the organization (departments, locations, managerial levels) along with relevant insights accumulated from the information sharing and subsequent dialogue.
- Bringing the outside world into the organization, eliminating the inward-looking myopia that plagues many laggard companies.
- Helping identify best practices from comparable industries through an ongoing exploration of how leading companies are marketing themselves and carving out new niches.
- Challenges the company is facing. The key is to manage the downside, minimize its “steepness,” and identify ways to reverse the curve as quickly as possible. This requires constant reality checking and information sharing among the various company functions. It can even mean employing outside-of-the-box thinking, such as consulting with futurists about cultural trends that might directly or indirectly affect what you provide.
- Communicating for growth. Growing companies feel invincible. But, the growth needs to be channeled and guided, lest spending run amok and employees fail to keep up. It’s critical that senior management continue to articulate a vision that is simultaneously aspiring, inspiring and practical. Communications and training must facilitate the ability to lead and maintain growth, while performance measures and reward and recognition must encourage the behaviors to support it.
In today’s complex business environment, leaders and communicators who accurately link business strategy to organizational communications, encouraging an active and vibrant dialogue, discussion and debate with and among employees, will avoid the downward slide of business inertia.
It all starts with a vibrant employee communications effort designed around the business strategy.
Is your internal communications accelerating your business strategy? Download key questions to consider here.