Earlier this year, I met with an executive who was stressed and desperately wanted a strategic plan. After probing into her insights and priorities for the year, she actually had a pretty clear idea of her main ‘rallying cries’ for her organization. And after even more discussion, she shared that she had a consultant create a strategic plan for her last year (and again, the plan was pretty good!). But when I asked her these key questions, she admitted that the strategy was never shared with her team members:
- “How did you invest team members into the strategy creation?
- “How did you communicate this to your teams?
- “Is your team aware of what they need to do?”
Creating a great strategy without communicating to teams is like a brilliant choreographer designing a gorgeous dance but doesn’t communicate the moves to the dancers. Or, like a military official creating a plan for invasion but fails to tell his or her subordinates what to do.
The bottom line: a strategy is only useful if you invest, align and activate your team members to achieve your goals. Let’s talk through this process and how I’ve used this method in past strategic projects:
- Invest: When I start the strategic planning process, one of my first questions is: who are your key stakeholders and when can I talk to them? While leaders have a valuable, broader view of organizational direction, team members are on the ground implementing on a daily basis and offer valuable perspective. Through a combination of one-on-one interviews, and/or through anonymous surveys, I listen to team feedback and thus, invest them in process.
- Align: Using input from the previous stage, the leadership teams and I draft a version of the organization’s top priorities for the year and communicate them to the team. In my opinion, the best format for this is a strategic workshop – by protecting time to focus on future planning signals the importance of this activity. (Plus, add in some good food and not-too-cheesy team builders and it’s actually fun!). Through the course of the day, team members participate in activities that actively shape the strategic plan, priorities, goals and milestones. In longer workshops, I’ve even been able to drill down to individual-level goals that ladder up to team and organizational goals.
- Activate: After teams are invested and aligned, they know what to do and need to actually implement against the plan. It’s essential to have an accountability system to honor the jointly-created goals and assign clear ownership. Additionally, I recommended creating a simple dashboard and build in monthly check-ins so that team members will track progress towards each area and course adjust as necessary.