For strategy implementation to be effective, you need your leaders on board.
All too often, a strategy department or strategy officer develops an incredibly effective strategy—then forgets the key step of ensuring leadership is on board and part of the process. For strategy implementation to be effective,you need leadership buy-in.
If this situation is playing out at your organization, here’s how to get things back on track.
The core of the strategy is expressed in your strategic goals (objectives). A complete strategy has measures and projects linked to those goals. That structure only works if everyone involved—from leadership to those involved in executing the strategy—is on the same page in terms of organizational goals. If they aren’t, or the language they use is different, you’re going to struggle with strategy implementation.
Most leadership teams benefit from seeing the objectives in different categories. For example, you’ll want to outline which objectives affect your customers, your finances, your employees, and your processes. While a strategy map isn’t required, it can certainly help with the organization of these four categories.
Ensuring that your goals are clearly defined and linked to specific measures and projects is the first step to getting buy-in; after that it's time to talk with the leadership team.
1. Hold one-on-one interviews with every member of the leadership team. To understand everyone’s perspective on your strategy, listen to the language they use, their specific concerns, and the opportunities they see to strengthen or improve the strategy. Finding ways to incorporate their language into the next steps will encourage buy-in.
2. Get all the leaders together for an initial strategy workshop. Use information you’ve gathered from the one-on-one interviews to understand which common strategic objectives everyone agrees on. This gives you a good place to start. From there, you can focus on areas of disagreement. Facilitate a group discussion and encourage listening and understanding of all points of view. Once you have a general sense of the root of the disagreements, you’ll be better able to tweak the strategy to meet everyone’s needs.
3. Assign ownership of the various elements of your strategy to different people on the leadership team. Remember, this isn’t your strategy—it’s your organization’s strategy. Naturally, leaders will look more carefully at elements of the strategy that they have ownership of. In doing this, you’ll open up more opportunities for the leadership team to consider specific elements that could be holding up the implementation process.
4. Begin to use your strategy. In my opinion, the best possible way to get buy-in on your organization’s strategy is to actively use it and manage it. Hold regular meetings to discuss progress. It’s possible that members of the leadership team will want to make changes to some objectives; remember to be as flexible as possible during these first few meetings to allow people to tweak language and definitions.
It’s one thing to be able to drum up energy and excitement in the early stages of strategic planning, but what about when you’re one or two years into the execution phase? If strategy isn’t intrinsic to your company’s DNA, you might find it difficult for people to maintain focus (and interest) over the long term. Following are some ways to keep the momentum going among your leadership team for the duration of strategy execution.
1. Establish a regular meeting cadence. Simply carving out time to talk about strategy periodically will help keep it top-of-mind. And while you might be tempted to schedule meetings on an “as-needed” basis or one at a time, we recommend choosing a definitive meeting cadence so leaders know what to expect. One organization we work with does its annual strategy refresh in January; as part of that exercise they schedule every strategy meeting for the remainder of the year and add the dates to everyone’s calendars. Not only is this a great way to demonstrate the importance of the meetings, but it also promotes attendance.
2. Focus your leadership meetings around strategy. Leadership meetings should be focused on strategy issues but too often tend to meander—usually through the weeds of operations or a currently blazing brushfire. Your leaders may need some training to learn how to stay focused on strategy. Create an agenda centered on reviewing goals, measures, and initiatives, and on validating your current strategic projects and direction.
3. Refresh the strategy periodically. The time frame of your strategic plan is three to five years, but it’s important to give it small refreshes annually (we call this a “rollover”). Bringing the leadership team together for these refreshes reinvigorates people and helps keep them engaged. One ClearPoint customer conducts what they call “Lite Workshops” in the years between strategy changes, where leaders come together to revisit some organizational goals and make minor tweaks to the strategic direction if needed.
4. Find ways to express and share your strategy visually. Visual content is engaging; it also promotes a common understanding of your strategy. In this area, we’ve seen strategy offices devise some pretty clever ideas, including the creation of strategy map placemats for conference tables and strategy infographics turned into office wall hangings. Even the simplest visual translation of your strategy could serve as a daily reminder, and help maintain leadership buy-in.
You could work double time trying to do all of the above without the help of software, but why do that if you don’t have to? Strategy software like ClearPoint supports so many of the above activities, taking over the most burdensome tasks associated with strategy execution—like data collection and report generation and distribution—so you can focus on the bigger picture.
But most organizations that start using ClearPoint quickly realize that one of its most significant benefits is the clarity it provides—it holds all your strategy information in one place, giving you a simple way to see the company’s (and departments’) progress in as much or as little detail as you want. And it’s easy to use, which makes it more likely managers and employees will stay on top of their metrics and work to improve them. Being able to see performance results anytime is an incredible motivator for everyone!
Here’s how to get leadership buy-in with the help of ClearPoint:
1. Within ClearPoint, assign each element or component of your strategic plan to a responsible party or owner—someone who is responsible for knowing and understanding particular objectives or goals. For example, objectives are usually owned by members of the leadership team. This encourages accountability and also lets everyone know who to reach out to if they have questions.
2. Prepare leaders for strategy review meetings by providing them with reports in advance of meetings. Once you’ve analyzed your data, ClearPoint can create reports for you and send them out to attendees automatically on a predetermined schedule.
3. Use ClearPoint during meetings to maintain focus. You can design meeting agendas right within ClearPoint, and hyperlink each item to the associated reports. Project it onto the screen during the meeting to guide you through the discussion of objectives, measures, and projects.
4. Promote the use of ClearPoint to answer strategy-related questions outside of meetings. As you work to ingrain a strategic mindset into your leaders, make it clear that they can turn to ClearPoint anytime to find out where things stand—they don’t have to send emails and ask for information.
5. If you have an intranet site or digital signage around the office, consider sharing some key strategy data via these outlets. ClearPoint has the ability to publish reports outside the software, whether you’re trying to reach everyone internally or even external stakeholders.
Does your leadership team feel any level of urgency with regard to strategy implementation? If not, they won’t put a lot of emphasis on these exercises. Their emphasis is, and always will be, managing the organization and delivering great results. If leadership doesn’t feel that your strategy is helping them with these time-sensitive issues, they’re not going to care about implementing it. Keep in mind that if this is the case, your organization’s strategy map may not reflect the actual strategy. Sometimes leadership teams get caught in the weeds or simply use terms reflected in other strategy documents.
We’ve seen this happen before, and it’s usually because those attempting to implement the strategy can’t integrate it in such a way that the leadership team deems critical. If you need help with this, contact us to learn how to lead an effective strategy review meeting. We'll assist you with the foundation you need to ensure that leadership is helping your strategy implementation efforts, not hindering them.
Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.