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How To Effectively Communicate Your Strategic Plan To Employees
When implementing a Balanced Scorecard or any type of strategic plan, there’s one thing many organizations tend to forget: No matter how good your strategy is, it won’t work if your employees don’t know how to align with it, or worse, if they simply don’t know about it. Your internal communication strategy can therefore truly make or break your efforts.
With communication being such a prominent driver of strategic success, you may find it helpful to develop a communication plan to ensure information is being disseminated effectively at all levels. In this article, we’ll explain the goals and main elements of a strong strategic communication plan, and discuss how you can overcome some of the main challenges you’re likely to face as you work to get everyone on the same page.
What is a strategic communication plan?
A strategic communication plan is a written plan outlining communication to your team on your organization's objectives. This plan is deliberate with messages and tactics used to help engage employees with your strategy and fuel performance success for your organization.
In his book Balanced Scorecard: Step-By-Step for Government and Nonprofit Agencies, Paul Niven outlines common objectives and key elements for developing an internal communication strategy.
Before creating a plan, Niven recommends putting some thought into your rationale for doing so. What is the overriding objective of your communication strategy? Is it to:
- Build awareness of the Balanced Scorecard, or strategic plan, at all levels of the organization?
- Provide education on key Balanced Scorecard concepts to all audiences?
- Generate the engagement and commitment of key stakeholders in the project?
- Encourage participation in the process?
- Generate enthusiasm for the Balanced Scorecard and strategic plan?
- Ensure that team results are disseminated rapidly and effectively?
As an example, Niven provides Nova Scotia Power’s communication objective:
“To present the concepts of the Balanced Scorecard to the key constituents involved in both sponsoring and providing input to the implementation, and to provide all involved with regular updates regarding the team’s progress during the implementation.”
This objective clearly states who communication should be directed to and what the content should say, both of which will serve as guideposts for all future strategy-related communications.
Key Elements For Your Strategic Plan
When formulating a communication plan, Niven recommends the “W5” approach to determine the key elements of your plan: who, why, what, when, and where.
Who refers to both the target audience and the communicator. Depending on the scope of your implementation, you should define the appropriate groups to be involved in the process. These groups make up your target audience. After the target audience has been specified, a communicator should be assigned to each group with the task of effectively disseminating the message.
The why and what in this equation can be understood as the purpose or message. The communication plan’s purpose is to convey the original objective behind implementing the plan. This could take the form of a common objective listed above, such as “generate the engagement and commitment of key stakeholders in the project.” What are we doing and why? We are implementing the communication plan to generate engagement and commitment from key stakeholders.
When should you communicate the message? The needs of your target audience will determine the necessary frequency of communication. If you are unsure about the amount of communication needed, it is always better to err on the side of too much. In his article “Leading Change,” John Kotter says, “without credible communication, and a lot of it, employees’ hearts and minds are never captured.”
Where and how are you supposed to communicate? Effective communication often takes a large amount of effort and, more often than not, the message needs to be repeated several times. In order for employees to fully understand the strategy and the ways in which they contribute to success, Dr. Robert Kaplan suggests communicating the plans “seven times in seven ways.” This might mean making use of brochures, speeches, newsletters, videos, company website or intranet, workshops, etc. Any channel that has the ability to reach the target audience could be used; it could even take the form of internal blog posts at your organization.
Communication is a two-way street, so don’t forget to ask for feedback from others and to provide it as well. Remember, communicate effectively and communicate often.
5 Obstacles To Strategic Alignment (And How A Communication Plan Can Overcome Them)
Have you ever been at work and overheard (or been directly asked), “Why are we doing this project?” or “Why did we stop focusing on this activity?” These seem like innocent questions, but as a strategy manager or executive leader, you might start to worry. The answers are in your strategic plan, and whether it was just rolled out last week or is in your plan from three years ago, your team should be using it as a resource for these kinds of questions—not operating in the dark.
If this situation sounds familiar, it’s time to take a step back and look at whether everyone understands your strategic plan. Below are five things that could be standing in the way of getting your teams to understand and adopt your strategy, as well as ideas on how to overcome them.
Obstacle 1: No Interaction With The Business Strategy
If you polled everyone in your company, how many people could name the key themes or priorities in your strategic plan without going to the intranet? If the answer is just a few, you may not be doing enough to make employees aware of it.
It’s common for teams to learn about a strategic plan via an orientation session or executive memo, which likely happens only once a year or quarter. Most employees don’t interact with the strategy or have any knowledge of it beyond this communication, making it easy to forget.
Try the following to increase team interaction with the strategy:
- Print your five strategic plan themes on business cards. Ask people to carry it with them—this is called a “pocket strategy.”
- Dedicate internal communications to themes and initiatives. For example, post your five themes in the break room, share success stories in meetings, and shower attention on individuals and projects that represent key areas of the strategic plan.
- Draw a strategy map like the one shown below and post it on the intranet and office walls (perhaps in the shape of a house or other recognizable, catchy graphic). Software like ClearPoint can help you consistently publish your results on your intranet.
Obstacle 2: No Connection To The Business Strategy
Employees may be interacting with strategic initiatives every day, but that doesn't mean they understand how their role connects to the strategy itself. If team members struggle to make an association between their daily work and the five-year direction of the organization, they won’t understand or remember much of the strategic plan.
To help connect employees to the strategy:
- Using the business cards from your pocket strategy above, ask teams and departments to circle the themes they contribute to most and write how they contribute. Share these cards in internal meetings.
- Have your executive leaders highlight the contributions of one team or department per month, giving shoutouts to work that is directly supporting the strategy.
- Draw clear linkages between work plans, budget, and strategy. This will connect all of your department activities to the strategic plan. (This isn’t easy, but here’s an article that can help.) ClearPoint has alignment reports to help visualize the connections.
Obstacle 3: Weak Links Between Current Activities And Future Strategy
Strategies are typically visions five years into the future of an organization. Should you wait until the end of those five years to reevaluate your strategy? Obviously not, but some organizations end up in this boat purely by lack of foresight. If you’re not consistently linking what your organization does currently with your long-term vision of the future, it will weaken the relevance of your strategic plan.
Try the following to help link current activities with future strategies:
- Create and discuss Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and targets. Start with a five-year target, then work backward to create KPIs for each year (including the current one), sharing metrics and results along the way.
- Explain how projects link to your strategy. For example, when you are investing in modernizing your infrastructure, explain how recent innovations connect to the strategy.
- Meet regularly and share progress results in real time. ClearPoint has workflow automations to ensure making updates is easy and painless.
Obstacle 4: Lack of motivation to get involved with business strategy.
Sometimes just talking about a strategy isn’t enough—you need to sell the idea of it to get buy-in. Your executives might be pumped after long and lengthy strategy discussions, but anyone who wasn’t involved in the higher-level thinking might require some motivation to get on board. You’ll need to find ways to engage everyone and get them excited about making the plan work.
The following tactics can help motivate your employees to execute strategy:
- Discuss and implement metric-focused incentives. For example, a group that hits KPI targets might be rewarded with bonus pay or an office celebration.
- Drive ownership by assigning individuals to update and report on various elements or components of your plan.
- With ClearPoint, you can have visibility directly into your strategy with our Teams integration, and you make updates without leaving Teams.
Obstacle 5: Lack of opportunity to provide feedback on the strategy.
Strategic plans are devised by leadership teams, but employees are the ones who carry out the daily work. To get and maintain buy-in from them—and perhaps gain some valuable perspective your leaders haven’t thought of—give everyone opportunities to react, ask questions, and contribute feedback.
- Keep them in the loop with frequent performance updates. At ClearPoint, for example, everyone stays up to date on strategy progress via weekly emails.
- Ask for feedback during team meetings. Your employees are best-positioned to know why things are going the way they are.
Communicating Your Strategy To Your Biggest Skeptics
In a previous post, we identified the four types of strategy skeptics you’re bound to run into and how to help them get on board with your plan. But what do you say to those individuals if they need that extra “nudge”?
1. Complex Chris
Chris thrives on making processes far more complex than they actually need to be. When Chris creates a complex report or process, he enjoys the feeling of accomplishment and likes being depended upon.
“What should I say to help Chris simplify his processes?”
You may consider sending out a pre-read of your reports so no one in management is confused or frustrated with complicated information during a meeting. On top of that, you’ll need to remind Chris that the number-one goal of strategy reporting is to provide clear, relevant information necessary to the management team so they can make decisions. Express to him that the information he provides should be relevant, reliable, and clear. For example, explain to him that charts shouldn’t take more than 5-10 seconds to decipher—and that data tables shouldn’t have an overwhelming number of columns or rows. You also may want to give Chris a simple standard he needs to adhere to based on what he’s in charge of. That alone could prevent unnecessary complexity.
2. Doubting Deb
Deb doesn’t ever feel comfortable with the data being presented and brings her doubts up regularly—making it difficult for everyone in the department to stay on the right track.
“What should I say to help Deb trust the data?”
Presenting information as consistently as possible may help Deb benchmark results month-to-month and feel more confident overall. If Deb still isn’t confident in your data or results despite this, it’s time to turn the tables and begin asking her some questions prior to your next report. Pull Deb aside and ask her to walk through some of the metrics she’s skeptical about. Explain to her that you want to be sure your data is valid and bring up any of her solid ideas from previous meetings. You may also want to implement a few rules on when someone can voice their doubts regarding the data validity. For example, tell Deb that it’s fine to bring up concerns before the meeting, but not during.
Once you’ve explained where your data comes from, Deb will either be satisfied and agree with the validity or you’ll get insight into her real concerns about data validity. For example, Deb may tell you that she’s skeptical because your data sources aren’t open for everyone in the organization to view. In that case, you may want to consider ways to be more transparent with your data. (Note that if you use good reporting software, you can add your formulas and data sources online next to the charts.)
3. Forgetful Fred
Fred doesn’t ever follow through on his offers to assist with an initiative, which makes it very difficult for everyone else to do their job successfully.
“What should I say to help Fred complete his tasks on time?”
Fred needs to be held accountable for the task he was assigned. The next time Fred misses a deadline or “forgets” he was assigned to a particular project or initiative, take the time to explain why accountability is such a critical part of a successful strategy implementation. If this issue persists, you may want to consider implementing software that will assign out ownership of measures and projects. This may help Fred complete his work in a more timely fashion.
4. Siloed Sarah
Teamwork isn’t something that comes easily to Sarah, and she doesn’t see the point in working with other departments.
“What should I say to help Sarah work well with others?”
Creating cross-functional teams can help Sarah step outside of her comfort zone. Give her some real-life examples of how working on a cross-functional team improved a process or helped an organization or department come up with a new idea. For example, if you’re a municipality, tell her a story of how someone in parks and recreation worked with someone in the police department to develop a process for communicating which parks need maintenance for issues that could cause safety hazards. Or, if you’re a software-as-a-service organization, you probably have a story about how someone from the development team helped automate the solution to a problem your sales team was working through. (Note: If you use ClearPoint, you could make Sarah a “collaborator” on multiple projects so that she can see her connection to other work that relates to the strategy.)
Communicating Strategy: 5 Important Lessons
Included in the May–June 2007 Balanced Scorecard Report is an article written by business writer Lauren Keller Johnson called “Common Sense in Strategy Communication: Four Lessons from Canon USA.” (This article was obtained from the Harvard Business Review store.)
In her article, Johnson discusses four lessons that can be learned from the way Canon USA communicated its strategic plan throughout the company—a strategy that won them a place in the Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame. These lessons are highly applicable to any organization, so we’ve summarized them below (and added one more of our own!) so you can avoid some of the initial bumps in creating your own strategic communications plan.
Lesson #1: “Don’t rely on written communication alone.”
Present the strategic plan in many different ways.
Your employees all absorb information differently. So, for example, if you only use posters to convey your communication strategy and have some employees who aren’t visual learners, those employees won’t be affected. Or, if you only send an email explaining the strategy in a long, drawn-out way, employees who routinely ignore long emails won’t be affected. Case in point—be sure you present your strategic plan in many different ways. You should use a mix of video, audio, visual, and written strategy communication to employees so everyone can learn about the plan in the way that is best for them.
Be creative with how you present your plan.
For example, Canon USA created “Strategy in Action: Canon Americas’ Strategy Playbook.” This playbook featured a color-coded version of the corporate strategy map and was designed by a graphic artist who had worked for USA Today. Consider doing something similar in your organization for a unique spin on your communication strategy.
Lesson #2: “Make your message clear and relevant.”
Define your strategic terms.
For example, if “customer” is one of the key terms in your strategy, consider defining it outright. In other words, don’t assume your employees know exactly who your customers are and why you’re targeting them.
Use crystal-clear language.
Using industry-specific acronyms may seem “smarter” or “easier”—but it is actually just the opposite. For example, the Canon USA strategy map doesn’t talk about “maximizing ROA.” Instead, it encourages employees to “find ways of lowering the cost of doing business,” “work together,” and “make Canon number one in all businesses.” Additionally, try to cut out any useless, jargon-laden phrases like “leveraging talent” or “optimizing strategy.”
Lesson #3: “Keep communication flowing in both directions.”
Develop venues for bottom-up communication.
Do your employees know you want them to provide you with feedback? If you don’t have any defined venues for this bottom-up strategic planning communication, they probably don’t. Or, at the very least, they don’t know how to go about providing you with that feedback. Consider the best avenue for constructive feedback based on your organizational structure and put it into place as soon as possible.
Lesson #4: “Tap into the workforce’s vision.”
Be open to suggestions from the workforce.
It’s one thing to have a strategic plan—and another thing entirely to find out how that plan is affecting your employees. If the leadership team is able to put themselves in the shoes of lower-level employees and see the strategy at work from their perspective, the leadership will be more willing to consider new and updated solutions to problems.
After you set your strategic plan, you need to be willing to make adjustments when necessary. Be sure to stay in tune with what is and isn’t working properly, and realize that you may need to step back and alter your strategic plan based on the feedback you’re getting.
Last but not least is a lesson that stems from our own experience, which is:
Lesson #5: “Make your progress visible.”
Provide a continuous stream of information to keep people interested and engaged. It isn’t enough to touch on strategy only once every six months, or even once a quarter. Instead, bring it to the forefront frequently. Encourage departmental teams to meet once a week to review their KPIs and discuss departmental strategy in connection with the organization’s overall plan. As an organization, try to meet monthly.
Keep it simple.
The more frequently you communicate results the simpler your communications should be—you can’t expect people to spend hours analyzing Excel spreadsheets every week. (Nor do you want to be stuck in a loop creating them!) Make use of a streamlining strategy software tool like ClearPoint. Not only will it enable you to share visually attractive dashboards that show the most important KPI statuses at a glance, but you’ll also leave the hard work of generating reports to the software, which does that automatically and distributes reports on a predetermined schedule.
Simplify your strategy communication plan with ClearPoint.
Bringing a strategic plan to fruition is a complicated endeavor; our mission is to simplify the process so you can get the job done. Not only do we provide an easy-to-use platform to communicate your plans and progress, but we also simplify the tasks associated with strategy reporting.
Using ClearPoint, you can:
- Create strategy maps for your company and departments, and share them with employees.
- Communicate progress by creating different KPI dashboards for various audiences.
- Use visual status indicators to show performance at a glance.
- Generate reports automatically on a predetermined schedule.
- Automatically distribute reports to the intended audiences on a schedule.
All those capabilities allow you to make strategy information visible and transparent for everyone in your organization—the stuff of strong communication. If you make it easy for your employees to both access the strategic plan information and provide you with constructive feedback, you’re going to see far more strategic success.
Interested in taking a tour of our software? Contact us and let us know what time works best for you. We can’t wait to show you around!
Andreas partners with ClearPoint customers to ensure their strategy reporting processes are smoothly integrated into our software.
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Strategic planning communication: 6 tips for getting your company on board
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Posted by: Lucid Content Team
If you make a strategic plan but no one hears about it, will it make an impact? By our estimate, the outlook is not so good. That’s because a plan is only as good as its implementation.
In other words, if you want to be successful, you must learn not only how to create a strategic plan for your business, but also how to communicate that plan effectively.
Easier said than done.
Use the following tips to improve your strategic plan communication and get employee engagement and buy-in from the ground up.
Why it’s important to effectively communicate your strategic vision
Companies invest a lot of time in developing a strategic plan or vision for the business. However, all that time and resources are wasted if you can’t successfully communicate your vision to the broader organization.
Not only is that initial investment wasted, but if you can’t align your company strategically, you’re essentially leaving every team to guess at what work is important, what problems or goals to prioritize, and what their ultimate purpose is.
A sure recipe for misalignment between departments and across the organization.
This misalignment can cause confusion and inefficiency, competition between teams and departments, and burnout and disengagement among employees.
In other words, without a well-communicated strategic plan, the business cannot move forward effectively or efficiently.
How to present a strategic plan
Use the following tips and best practices to communicate your strategic plan effectively and get everyone is on the same page.
Hold an all-hands meeting
Announce your vision first at an organization-wide all-hands meeting. Ideally, you will be communicating your plans time and time again in the coming months through various meetings and formats. But it’s important to communicate your plans to the entire organization first so everyone receives the same messaging.
Telling everyone together will help prevent confusion or misinformation from spreading through the rumor mill and ensure that no one is left out.
It also gives you the opportunity to answer questions and get initial feedback from the collective group. Be sure to leave time during your meeting to take questions and solicit feedback. Addressing those concerns together can reduce the burden on managers to answer difficult questions and ensures everyone is getting the same answers from the same reliable source.
Then, as you continue to roll out communication and implementation across departments, you can move forward more effectively on the initial feedback you received and address more specific questions case by case and team by team.
Explain the “why”
In your efforts to explain what is changing, don’t forget to also explain why. Change isn’t easy. When you unveil a new strategic plan, you are likely to disrupt your employees’ processes and approaches to their work.
For example, let’s say your new plan includes updates in technology or the adoption of new systems. While you may be able to see how those changes will make your employees’ work easier or more efficient in the long run, they are the ones who will have to bear the brunt of learning a new system, changing well-worn processes that “worked just fine” before, and dealing with the growing pains of a learning curve—which could include lower productivity and even upset customers initially.
Show respect for your people by recognizing what you’re actually asking them to do, and clarify why it’s so important to move forward with the new plan.
As you outline the “why” behind these changes, make sure you do two things:
1. Create urgency
Why change now? What is the rush? As you explain the purpose behind the new plans, you need to create urgency for why these changes are coming now. What is driving the need to change?
This will help people both understand why you’re making those changes and help them adopt the same sense of urgency in implementing those plans effectively.
2. Answer what’s in it for “me”
Sometimes high-level strategy can feel irrelevant to the everyday work or processes teams and individuals are doing. As you communicate your plans and vision for the future, make sure you connect the purpose and benefits directly to your employees.
How does the new strategy improve their work experience? What are the benefits to their team or department? For example, if the new strategic vision will lead to happier customers, explain how that translates to easier customer service calls or higher sales quotas.
When people feel that change will be good for them (and not just a nebulous bottom line), they will be more engaged in making those plans successful.
Create a framework for teams to align their work with company strategy
Take the guesswork out of alignment by creating a company-wide framework for implementing the new strategy and keeping everyone’s work aligned. A simple but effective approach is to create goals and projects based on the strategic plan.
For example, Lucid uses OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) , so each team’s projects relate back to the company’s main objectives.
OKRs help you organize your goals around a strategy and track key results at the end of the period you’re measuring. This process helps teams and individuals not only align their priorities and goals but also clarify ownership and accountabilities.
When everyone is operating from the same framework, it makes it easier to implement company strategy broadly and consistently so that everyone is aligned.
Reinforce the strategic plan in future communications
Follow up and follow through to keep the momentum going behind your new strategic plans. Too often, leadership makes the mistake of building up the new strategy on the front end without making that communication consistent throughout the rest of the year and beyond.
Remember: Communicating your strategic plan shouldn’t be a one-time big announcement.
Building adoption and aligning your organization to a new vision or goal takes time. Reinforce your message by making your strategy an integral part of your company meetings, company newsletter, employee reviews, and one-on-one conversations.
Celebrate successes along the way
Implementing a new strategic plan isn’t as simple as checking off a to-do list. There will be questions to answer, problems to solve, and people to win over. This takes time and won’t always be smooth sailing. That’s why it is important to celebrate employee, team, or organizational successes along the way.
Highlight these individual and collective wins in team and company meetings. Recognizing successes while your company transitions to a new strategy will drive engagement and adoption, leading to greater ownership and accountability throughout the organization.
Clarify your message with visuals
Strategic plans usually involve lots of terms, projections, and parts. But these details can quickly get lost in translation if you don’t communicate clearly. Help your audience stay engaged and on board by visualizing key information.
Visuals are a simple but powerful way to support your presentation and clarify your messaging so that everyone understands your vision for the future. Use visuals like flowcharts, graphs, product roadmaps, and organizational models to clarify new processes, roles, and accountabilities.
As teams begin implementing the new strategy, use visuals to improve alignment within and across teams. Lucidchart makes it easy for teams to collaborate and innovate from a single application. Simple collaboration features let team members add feedback or ask clarifying questions around group projects.
Visual collaboration and communication from the top down and within teams will help your company understand and adopt your new vision faster and more successfully.
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13 Key Steps to Communicating Your Strategic Plan
blog , Strategic Plan
Creating a strategic plan is quite an undertaking for any business. Not only are you often hiring outside firms to facilitate the process, but you are also using an enormous amount of internal resources to gather data, convert it into meaningful information, and sort that data during over 3-5 days of meetings with your key players.
What is fascinating, is how often this effort fails– not in terms of determining the business’ path forward, but in disseminating the information broadly and effectively to all the members of the organization, especially those that were not part of the decision-making team. A great strategic plan should have focus and clarity around vision, mission, objectives, strategies, and actions. In order to elevate engagement and participation, a communication plan needs to provide great simplicity, clarity, and focus, without ambiguity.
Communication Strategy in 13 Steps
1. call an all-company meeting.
This meeting is focused on communicating the organization’s strategic plan. If you have any thoughts that information from your senior team will leak before the meeting, use email or text message to get out in front of your messaging.
2. Who’s coming to the party
Review in detail who will be present and what level of detail they will need. You want to create comfort around any changes that might affect them. Think through the negative, as well as positive aspects of the strategic plan. When it comes to change, people will always assume the worst, so it’s important to get it all out at once.
3. Provide conceptual tools
During the meeting, describe the basic principles of a strategic plan, as well as any new terms or definitions of terms. For example, if you discuss EBITDA, (earnings before interest tax and depreciation) don’t assume all your employees will understand what you mean. If you use a Balanced Scorecard Model, take employees through the basics so that they can understand the meaning behind what you are about to explain to them. The more they truly understand, the more buy-in you will receive from them in the end.
4. Tell and retell the history
Provide a broader base about the history of the organization in order to create context around how strategy plays a part in the growth of the company. You can provide the key elements of what has led to your growth, challenges in the past, and how that has informed your future direction.
5. Reveal the competition
Describe your competitive advantages and disadvantages with specific examples. In other words, name the competition. It may surprise you to know how few people actually think about the impact competition has on your business and direction.
6. Compare and contrast
Compare past planning processes with current ones. Some organizations have had very bad strategic plans or poor execution of plans, which can give you a bad rap among employees. If you are not specific about how this year is different from the past, you may have a tsunami of resistance against your planning before you have even begun to change it. Get ahead of the resistance by naming the difference.
7. Connect employees to the plan
Describe how this strategic plan differs from one in the past. If you went out to employees with surveys, make sure they understand how they participated in the creation of the plan. Making connection points with employees will help find a mental place for them to store the information you are sharing. Without this many companies disconnect with their people and it directly impacts employee engagement. Dow Corning uses a matrix that focuses on the Intellectual Understanding and Emotional Commitment of their employees. Those that are high in both are considered Champions. If you execute your communication plan well you are more likely to develop Champions within your organization.
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8. Describe the plan
Explain what barriers may arise that could potentially prevent your organization from achieving its vision, mission, objectives, and actions. Remember that all employees have different levels of understanding, so make sure that you not only describe the numerics of the strategic plan but also what the terms mean and why they are meaningful to understanding the business. Differentiate between signal and noise for your employees to determine relevancy.
9. Provide handouts of the plan
Don’t hand out information that you wouldn’t want your competitors to see – there is a fine line of ‘what’ information to share with ‘who’ within the company). If your strategic plan is in book format, do yourself a favor and don’t pass that out. Provide only the critical information that will help support your employees in doing their job.
10. Point out the differences
Describe how you would imagine these new differences will show up in behaviors throughout the organization. The greater clarity people have around the potential impact of these new changes, the higher your return on both your planning and your communication delivery.
11. Ask them what they believe will be different and the same
Often times leaders don’t want to ask questions because they are afraid of what they may hear. Remember, just because you don’t hear it doesn’t mean that they aren’t thinking about it and discussing it among themselves. The only difference between you asking is that you now will know what is going on for them.
12. Allow them to ask you questions
Often times this model puts you as the leader on a pedestal, which is not the leader of today. So be careful about showing up as the leader with all the answers.
13. Reinforce Communication Strategy in regular intervals and in different ways
- Ask them to each meet with their managers about the details and implications of how they do their work within the organization.
- Provide a report card monthly on how the company and or area is doing against the strategic plan.
- Provide employee reviews that directly connect back to the plan.
- Tie compensation back to the success of plan initiatives.
- Include connections in the company newsletter or intranet blog about successes and challenges associated with the strategic plan.
- Put up a communication board or measurement graphic that will keep everyone connected back to the plan (be explicit).
- Use infographics to present information back to employees.
- Hold live quarterly employee meetings, or by video if you are challenged geographically, and reconnect everyone back to the strategic plan.
- Use walls and screen savers to propagate company values and mission regularly.
- Use an electronic scoreboard on video monitors throughout the organization.
- Use metaphorical premiums that can represent the over-arching vision.
If you use some or all of these steps in your communication strategy you will reduce resistance and increase the likelihood of strategic plan success.
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About the Guest Contributor Gary Cohen ( CO2 Partners, LLC ) Managing Partner
Gary is famous for asking; he wrote the book on it. He probes his clients with the only kind of questions that can produce change: unexpected ones. From the client’s answers, this dedicated Minneapolis leadership coach offers not just insights but alternative courses of action.
“There always are several good roads to Rome,” he says. “The key is to identify the one that best fits both your head and heart.” And he focuses on Rome–and not the possible curves in the road–for a simple reason: most obstacles are artificial, and the rest are in our heads. “Clear your head,” he has said, “and the obstacles disappear.” This may explain why Gary’s clients call him “eccentric in exactly the right way.” He knows that unusual success comes from unusual approaches, and–as Gary often has said, “I never have met a client who wanted to be ordinary.”
CEO experience: Managing Partner and Co-founder of CO2 Partners, LLC in 2004 an Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Firm. Founded ACI in 1989 with $4,000 and two employees, then grew 48 percent compounded annually for 12 years to over 2,200 employees and went public on the NASDAQ; Venture Magazine’s Top 10 Best Performing Businesses; and Business Journal’s 25 Fastest Growing Small Public Companies and Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.
Board memberships: All Kinds of Minds, Harvard Alumni Club of Minnesota, IC Systems, Inc., Richfield Bank, ACI, Telecentric, Outward Bound National Advisory, HBS Alumni Club of Minnesota (Past President), and Minnesota Zoo Foundation among others.
Author: Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions (McGraw Hill 2009); articles for Business Week, Leader to Leader, and Forbes. Clients: Unilever, Intel, Genentech, MetLife, Thermo-Fisher, and 100 -plus entrepreneur-led businesses.
Education: University of Minnesota (B.A); Harvard Business School; Covey Leadership Center; Disney Leadership Institute; and Aspen Institute Crown Fellow. Want to know more about Gary’s approach to leadership and life? Read his blog, Elements of Leadership.
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How to Communicate a New Strategic Plan to Employees
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Smart new strategies can be a real game-changer for small businesses, but filtering the necessary adjustments down to the team can be challenging. In the beginning, a manager can expect some confusion as the strategy focus changes. However, good communication can lead the team through murky waters toward the new goal. According to a 2005 article by Joanna Brandi on Entrepreneur.com, communicating business objectives repeatedly, and breaking them down into employee-sized goals, keeps employees engaged. Before presenting a new vision to your employees, have your notes ready so you give the new goals the best delivery.
Ask employees to attend an informational company meeting about an exciting new strategy.
Explain the reasons for the strategy. Detail where the old strategy fell short and what you hope to achieve with the new one. Give specifics whenever possible.
Roll out the new strategy with excitement and specificity. Refer to handouts, if applicable, and demonstrate how the new process will better suit the company needs.
Run down a list of differences between the previous strategy and the new one. For example, the old strategy may have only served local customers, but a new strategy could include serving customers via the Internet. Illustrating the differences between the two will help convince the team of the benefits of the change.
Solicit questions from the team. Allow them to express their concerns and find answers together.
Schedule a follow-up meeting to allow teammates to ask more detailed questions after they've had time to communicate with one another. Be prepared to repeat the new strategy frequently and nudge employees towards the changes as necessary.
- Legge Company; Effectively Communicate Strategy to Employees; Bob Legge
- Entrepreneur: 9 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged; Joanna Brandi; April 2005
- Offer training to new employees, if needed.
- Be willing to visit departments personally to verify that the new strategies are being implemented. Be friendly and show support with positive feedback.
- Be an active part of troubleshooting unforeseen issues.
As a former senior sales director with Mary Kay and the co-owner of a renovation company, Monica Patrick has firsthand knowledge of small business operations. Besides start ups, she has extensive skills in recruiting, selling, leadership, makeup artistry and skin care.
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Communicating Your Strategic Plan to Employees
Jun 23, 2015 | Communication
In order to elevate employee engagement and participation, a communication plan needs to provide a simple, straightforward description of the plan and overarching goals that every employee and team can align to.
Once your strategic plan is completed, the next step will be to effectively communicate it to employees.
1. Create a One-Sheet Summary
Boil down the essence of your strategic plan into one or two pages.
Ideas for what to include:
What is our Vision ? What is our Mission ? Environment: What does the market look like without us? Direction: Where is the company going? Scope: In which markets do we compete? Customers: Who are our customers? Differentiation: What is our unique selling proposition? Advantages: How we will do it better than anyone else? Resources: What tools do we have? Success: How do we define success? Goals: Define the specific, measureable goals that will define success for the 3 or 5 year strategic plan. If possible, categorize those goals under broad headers like: Employees, Customers, Community, Financial Performance.
2. Write a Good FAQ for Your Employees
Craft 5-10 answers to what you anticipate will be the most frequently asked questions around the strategic plan.
Some of those questions might be:
Who was involved in putting together the strategic plan? How will the new plan impact my job, roles and responsibilities? Will the new strategic plan impact my already established goals for this year?
3. Provide a Meeting-in-a-box For Leaders
Set expectations for your top leadership group to cascade the highlights of the strategic plan to their teams. Provide a 30-minute meeting-in-a-box complete with talking points and key message germane to the strategic plan.
4. Design a “Big Goal” Card
Create a laminated card that contains the overarching 3-5 year measurable goals that can be distributed to all employees.
5. Send a “Message from the CEO” to All Employees
Craft a letter from the CEO to all employees that announces the creation of the new strategic plan and what it means to the organization going forward. The One-Sheet summary can be included as an attachment.
Include context (company history, what brought us to this point, why this strategic plan at this time is so important, who was involved, describe the process briefly, etc.), provide a broader base around the history of the organization to create the context of how strategy plays a part in the growth of the company. You can provide the key elements of what has led to your growth and challenges in the past and how that has informed your future direction.
6. Begin With a Leadership Briefing
Gather your top leadership group (in person meeting or teleconference) – 30-60 minutes to get everyone on the same page
Points to Cover:
– Share the strategy and the communication plan – Share the one-sheet summary – answer questions or provide additional color – Set expectation for this leadership group to cascade the information to their teams – Provide them with your 30-minute meeting-in-a-box complete with talking points and key message germane to the strategic plan – Discuss expectations around how your leaders will work with employees to align goals to the new plan and work to create a direct line of sight between what they do every day and the company’s big overarching goals.
7. Have an All-Company Meeting or Smaller Team Meetings
This could be an in-person meeting, teleconference, or web conference – whatever works best to include everyone, or as many relevant employees as possible. If team meetings are more viable than an all-company meeting, then by leveraging the meeting-in-a-box, have leaders debrief with their teams and begin the process of aligning team goals to company goals. Clarify what will be the same and what will change, share what the challenges and risks will be, and establish “What We Don’t Do”, which can be helpful to clarify new direction and perhaps what areas of the business you are eliminating, etc. Additionally, you can create message forums on the intranet, where employees get answers to their questions that may arise after the initial meeting.
8. Commit to quarterly progress updates
Create a barometer of sorts that can be posted on the intranet that will share progress.
Utilizing these steps will help facilitate an effective communication of your strategic plan with your employees, and also help to ensure that the plan rolls out as successfully as possible.
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Eight Ways to Communicate Your Strategy More Effectively
- Georgia Everse
A frustrated CEO recently shared with me that her employees had lost their edge. They were internally focused, their speed-to-market was down, and they couldn’t find a good balance between serving customers well while making healthy margins. The result was slow progress against the company strategy and an inability to profitably deliver on the value […]
A frustrated CEO recently shared with me that her employees had lost their edge. They were internally focused, their speed-to-market was down, and they couldn’t find a good balance between serving customers well while making healthy margins. The result was slow progress against the company strategy and an inability to profitably deliver on the value proposition. She had attempted to motivate employees and be clear about the strategy, but she was falling short and was looking for answers on what to do next. The solution in many cases is to overhaul internal communications strategies in order to convince employees of the authenticity, importance, and relevance of their company’s purpose and strategic goals. Here are just a few communications approaches that will help you effectively reach your employees and encourage behaviors that advance your strategy and improve your results.
1. Keep the message simple, but deep in meaning. Most organizations have a deeper meaning as to why they exist. This tends to influence strategy, decision-making and behaviors at executive levels, but often isn’t well articulated for employees. What you call it doesn’t matter, your purpose, your why, your core belief, your center. What does matter is that you establish its relevance with employees in a way that makes them care more about the company and about the job they do. It should be at the core of all of your communications, a simple and inspiring message that is easy to relate to and understand. Strategy-specific messages linked to your purpose become tools to help employees connect their day-to-day efforts with the aspiration of the company.
2. Build behavior based on market and customer insights For employees to fully understand how your strategy is different and better than the competition they need to be in touch with market realities. The challenge is in how to effectively convey those realities so that your people can act on them. By building internal campaigns based on market and customer insights, you bring your strategy to life for your employees through this important lens. Package your content so that it can be shared broadly with all departments in your organization, but in a hands-on way. Expose managers first then provide them with easy-to-implement formats for bringing their teams together, with toolkits that include all the materials they’ll need. The purpose is to encourage their teams to develop department-specific responses, and to generate new ideas and new behaviors based on what they’ve learned.
3. Use the discipline of a framework. Not all messages are created equal. They need to be prioritized and sequenced based on their purpose. I suggest using an Inspire/Educate/Reinforce framework to map and deliver messages on an annual basis.
- Inspire. Messages that inspire are particularly important when you are sharing a significant accomplishment or introducing a new initiative that relates to your strategy. The content should demonstrate progress against goals, showcase benefits to customers, and be presented in a way that gets attention and signals importance. The medium is less important than the impression that you want to leave with employees about the company. Whether you’re looking to build optimism , change focus, instill curiosity, or prepare them for future decisions, you’ll have more impact if you stir some emotion and create a lasting memory.
- Educate. Once you’ve energized your team with inspiring messages, your explanations of the company’s strategic decisions and your plans for implementing them should carry more weight. To educate your teams most effectively on the validity of your strategy and their role in successful execution, make sure you provide job-specific tools with detailed data that they can customize and apply in their day-to-day responsibilities. It is most important for these messages to be delivered through dialogues rather than monologues, in smaller group sessions where employees can build to their own conclusions and feel ownership in how to implement.
- Reinforce. It isn’t enough to explain the connection between your company’s purpose and its strategy — and between that strategy and its execution — once. You’ll need to repeat the message in order to increase understanding, instill belief and lead to true change overtime. These reinforcing messages need to come in a variety of tactics, channels, and experiences and I’ve highlighted some approaches below. Ultimately, they serve to immerse employees in important content and give them the knowledge to confidently connect to the strategy. You’ll also want to integrate these messages with your training and your human resource initiatives to connect them with employee development & performance metrics. Recognize and reward individuals and teams who come up with smart solutions and positive change.
4. Think broader than the typical CEO-delivered message. And don’t disappear. Often corporate communications has a strictly top-down approach. I’ve found that dialogue at the grassroots is just as important, if not more so. Employees are more likely to believe what leaders say when they hear similar arguments from their peers, and conversations can be more persuasive and engaging than one-way presentations. Designate a team of employees to serve as ambassadors responsible for delivering important messages at all levels. Rotate this group annually to get more people involved in being able to represent the strategy inside the company. And when the message comes from leadership , make sure it’s from your most visible, well-regarded leaders. Another mistake is the “big launch event and disappear” approach. Instead, integrate regular communications into employee’s daily routines through detailed planning against the messages mapped in your Inspire/Educate/Reinforce framework.
5. Put on your “real person” hat. And take off your “corporate person/executive” hat. The fact is, not many people are deeply inspired by the pieces of communication that their companies put out. Much of it ignores one of the most important truths of communication — and especially communication in the early 21st century: be real. “Corporate speak” comes off hollow and lacking in meaning. Authentic messages from you will help employees see the challenges and opportunities as you see them and understand and care about the direction in which you’re trying to take the company.
6. Tell a story. Facts and figures won’t be remembered. Stories and experiences will. Use storytelling as much as possible to bring humanity to the company and to help employees understand the relevance of your strategy and real-life examples of progress and shortfalls against it. Ask employees to share stories as well, and use these as the foundation for dialogues that foster greater understanding of the behaviors that you want to encourage and enhance versus those that pose risks. Collectively these stories and conversations will be a strong influence on positive culture-building behavior that relates to your core purpose and strategic goals.
7. Use 21st-century media and be unexpected. The delivery mechanism is as important and makes as much of a statement as the content itself. Most corporate communications have not been seriously dusted off in a while, and the fact is, the way people communicate has changed tremendously in the past five years. Consider the roles of social media , networking, blogs, and games to get the word out in ways that your employees are used to engaging in. Where your message shows up also says a lot. Aim to catch people somewhere that they would least expect it. Is it in the restroom? The stairwell? On their mobile phone?
8. Make the necessary investment. Most executives recognize how important their employee audience is. They are the largest expense to the company. They often communicate directly with your customers. They single-handedly control most perceptions that consumers have about the brand. So if this is a given, why are we so reluctant to fund internal communication campaigns? I suggest asking this question: What am I willing to invest per employee to help them internalize our strategy and based on that understanding, determine what they need to do to create a differentiated market experience for our customers? Do the math and set your hoped-for ROI high whether it is financial performance or positive shifts in behavior and culture. If you choose not to invest be certain of the risk. If you don’t win over employees first, you certainly won’t succeed in winning with customers, as they ultimately hold that relationship in their hands.
- Georgia Everse is a communications and marketing executive with 30 years of experience and a proven track record of finding innovative solutions to complex business problems. She specializes in helping C-level executives find and articulate their vision and successfully use strategic communication to achieve their growth goals. Georgia is a visiting professor for the Ferris State University MBA program, in Design and Innovation Management. She is currently a partner with Genesis Inc., a brand, strategy and communications consultancy.
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How to Communicate Strategy To Your Team Effectively
By Sara McGuire , Sep 02, 2020
Aligning your team is always challenging. Aligning your team so they can act quickly, when there are still many uncertainties ahead, is even more challenging.
At Venngage, we had to pivot our marketing strategy based on shifting trends we saw in our target markets . We’re fortunate to be able to say that, by and large, we have been successful.
In this guide, I’ll share a framework for how to communicate strategy clearly and effectively, based on my experience leading the Content Marketing Team at Venngage. I will also share effective communication strategies other leaders have been using during these uncertain times.
Table of Contents (click to jump ahead)
Two important things to keep in mind to communicate effectively, the 5-step framework to communicate strategy.
How to keep your team aligned
Templates to help you communicate strategy (communication plans, roadmaps, mind maps, flow charts and more)
Three common barriers of communication
How leaders are communicating strategy to their teams
Miscommunications are inevitable – especially with many teams working remote. But from my experience, there are two best practices you can follow to communicate strategy clearly with others. Let these two best practices guide how you approach your strategic communications:
1. Keep your message as simple and direct as possible
The high-level strategy you need to communicate may be complex, with different inputs and concurrent projects, but the main objective should be easy to understand.
When communicating your strategy to your entire team, focus on the main objective and the high-level milestones that need to be hit to get there. Essentially, communicate the framework within which you need your team to operate to hit the main objective. You can go into more specific details when communicating with smaller teams or individual contributors.
Depending on the size of your company, the industry you’re in, or the nature of your project, the guidelines for how you reach your main objective may be stricter or more open. In cases where your guidelines are stricter, make sure to tie the steps back to the main objective. Meanwhile, in cases where the guidelines are less strict, you will need to guide your team on keeping their focus on the main objective, not getting distracted or veering off course.
CREATE THIS MIND MAP TEMPLATE
2. Use visuals to make your communication more effective
Visuals help make information more memorable. When it comes to explaining complex processes with multiple inputs, using text or verbal communication alone can often leave gaps in understanding. Research has been done to indicate that communicating with visuals helps to increase retention of information .
One way you can use visuals to make your communication more engaging AND effective is to visualize the main inputs of your strategy. Here’s an example of a simple visual that breaks down high-level goals (increase repeat customers by 31% and decrease CAC by 5% every month) into four strategic inputs:
CREATE THIS ROADMAP TEMPLATE
A visual like this can serve as a reference doc for your team, to help them stay aligned on the goals. You can include it in your project plan and share it in weekly/monthly team meetings to keep it top of mind.
I’ll share some more visual communication templates further down in this guide. Click here to jump ahead.
Now, how do you effectively communicate your strategic plan?
When it comes to communicating a strategy to your team, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is a simplified 5-step framework you can follow to communicate strategy effectively to your team.
USE THIS TEMPLATE
1. Start with your vision
Narrative is a powerful tool for communication. People like to know where they fit into your organization’s narrative.
When communicating your vision, establish the problem you are aiming to solve with your strategy:
- Who does this problem impact?
- What are the human emotions associated with this problem?
Your vision should tie back to your organization’s mission statement. This will help contextualize your strategy within your organization’s overarching narrative, which can help motivate your team to want to impact that narrative through their work.
Not every project you embark on will be glamorous or inspiring in nature. For example, you may need to communicate a strategy for improving your organization’s analytics tracking and reporting.
But if you tie the project back to the human impact it will have–for example, more clarity for your organization and the ability to make more informed decisions, which can lead to more confident execution on tasks and less frustration at the unknowns–you can still make the project meaningful for the team members involved.
2. Set clear and measurable objectives
One of the biggest mistakes a lot of small organizations make is not identifying specific, measurable goals for their projects. If the outcome of a project isn’t measurable (even if there isn’t a perfect way to measure it), it will be difficult to know whether or not you actually achieved your goal.
Some common types of project objectives are:
- Financial objectives : revenue growth, sales targets, profit margins, returns on invested capital, diversified revenue base
- Business objectives : product launch, team growth, opening or closing an office)
- Technical objectives : implementing new technology, automating a process, prototyping a product
- Quality objectives : increase NPS score, reduce customer support response time
- Performance objectives : number of successful product releases, delivering within a given budget or timeframe
- Compliance objectives : compliance with certain regulations, meeting and exceeding health and safety regulations, meeting legal regulations
- Marketing objectives : increase social media engagement, increasing site traffic, increasing sales leads, increasing brand awareness
Communicate to your team what specific metrics the success of the project will be measured against. If you’re giving a presentation, dedicate an entire slide to these primary objectives:
3. Break down your strategy into inputs
Once you’ve communicated your high-level objectives, break down how your team will achieve them. This will ground your abstract vision in real, actionable steps.
Another way to look at it is to communicate the outcome of your strategy (the goal) and the different concurrent tracks your team needs to follow to get there (inputs).
When it comes to breaking down your strategy into inputs, it helps to consider both leading and lagging indicators (or leading and lagging metrics).
Communicating your strategy to your team using both leading and lagging indicators can help them better contextualize the goals in their everyday processes.
Bernard Marr has a whole guide to leading and lagging indicators that goes into more detail, but to summarize:
Leading indicators are inputs that impact a potential outcome in the future. Your leading indicators impact your lagging indicators.
For example, let’s say your primary goal is to increase customer acquisition by 20%. Marketing leading indicators could be backlinks, social media engagement, or sales channel growth.
These are metrics you can track that contribute to your high-level goal. If you hit your leading indicators, it should follow that you will hit your goals.
Lagging indicators are inputs that have already happened. Examples of lagging indicators are typically metrics like revenue and profit.
Returning to our marketing example, a lagging indicator could be keyword rankings and conversion rates.
A common trap many teams fall into is to focus on lagging indicators. The problem with that approach is that it can make it difficult to identify where you should focus your efforts earlier on to better steer the ship towards reaching your goal (i.e. by tracking your leading indicators).
But by identifying the leading indicators that contribute to the success of hitting your lagging indicators, you can track your progress incrementally.
4. Outline clear milestones
You’ve got your vision, your high-level goals and your inputs. Now you need to communicate your strategy’s timeline.
Communicate to your team:
- What are our touch-points throughout this project?
- When are the deadlines for these deliverables?
Visualize your timeline using a roadmap or timeline infographic to help make the process more concrete in the minds of your team.
CREATE THIS INFOGRAPHIC TEMPLATE
5. Identify ownership
A crucial part of implementing a strategy is for everyone involved to have a clear understanding of what their responsibilities are. From my experience, when the individual contributors on your team have a strong sense of ownership, they are more likely to rise to the challenge.
Confusion about who owns what can lead to missed opportunities, roadblocks in productivity, and a general lack of efficiency.
When communicating your strategy to your team, clearly identify who will own what. Furthermore, make it clear why they are owning that particular area of the strategy. This is a great opportunity for you to call on your team members’ strengths.
Essentially, you want your team to feel like the A-team they are.
It’s also important to define what ownership means in the context of your strategy. Does it mean ownership of tracking a specific set of metrics? Does it mean finding solutions to certain problems? Does it mean coordinating a specific process?
The more clarity you can provide from the outset, the easier it will be for your team to hit the ground running.
CREATE THIS CHART TEMPLATE
Once you’ve communicated your strategy, how do you keep your team aligned?
You’ve communicated your strategy to your team. Everyone on your team says they understand the goals and their individual roles. You feel motivated. Your team feels motivated.
But your work isn’t done. Now it’s up to you to make sure your team stays on track and aligned with the goals you’ve set.
Tie back inputs to your high-level objectives, often
When it comes to keeping your team aligned on your goals, repetition is key.
When everyone on your team is plugging away at their individual tasks, it can be easy for people to get lost in the weeds.
Some ways you can help keep your team aligned on your high-level objectives are:
- Repeat them in your weekly/monthly team meetings
- When your team reports on their progress, steer the conversation
- When scoping projects, measure the results by their impact on your leading indicators
That last point is an important one. It can be easy to get distracted by ideas that are nice to have, but may be better off tabled until later. When you need your team to act on a strategy fast, it’s important that everyone’s time and efforts are focused on things that will get the results you need.
Here’s an experiment planning checklist template you can use make sure tasks support your high-level goals:
CREATE THIS REPORT TEMPLATE
Check in on your individual contributors, often
Don’t micro-manage. But be present. This will help you address any problems as they arise, as well as foster credibility within your team.
By being present, I mean setting up structured check-in points daily, weekly, or bi-weekly – whatever makes sense for your team and your project. Aim to structure your check-ins around progress, learnings so far, and roadblocks your team members may be encountering.
Your check-in points could be:
- Team standups where everyone shares status update, roadblocks and asks from the rest of the team
- 1-1 meetings with your team to discuss progress and roadblocks more privately
- Project status updates in your weekly/monthly team meetings
Communicate your team’s progress, often
People don’t want to exist in a vacuum. Regularly give your team updates on how their work is contributing towards meeting your milestones and your high-level goals.
Creating a visual roadmap can be helpful for keeping your stakeholders updated on your team’s progress. You can track tasks completed, tasks in progress and tasks that still need to be done.
Templates to help you communicate strategy
Visual communication can make your ideas easier to understand and easier to retain. Here are some essential communication strategy templates.
Roadmaps make it easier to track projects at a high level, identify deliverables and deadlines, track progress towards goals, and show multiple concurrent timelines.
Use a timeline to show a simplified visual of events in a process. Timelines can be a particularly engaging way of visualizing milestones.
Mind Map Templates
Mind maps allow you to visually group ideas, show relationships between parts of a strategy, and break down abstract concepts.
Flow Chart Templates
Flow charts help you map out processes with different options or tracks more effectively. They also allow you to plot potential risks and show potential outcomes based on variables.
Project & Business Plan Templates
Depending on the scope of a project, you may need a more detailed document. That’s where a project plan comes into play. In a project plan, you outline your goals, who your key players are, milestones and deadlines, budget, dependencies and risks, and next steps.
CREATE THIS PLAN TEMPLATE
To supplement a longer doc, it can also be largely beneficial to put together a concise one-page plan that summarizes the main points:
Crisis Communication Plan Template
I think we’re all pretty used to being in crisis mode at this point. One thing is certain: it helps to have a plan. Here’s a template that you can use to communicate your escalation framework and key roles and responsibilities for responding to a crisis.
We have a guide with more crisis communication plan templates here.
Three common barriers to effective communication
Miscommunications are unavoidable. Different people have different ways of communicating. Here are some of the most common communication barriers you are likely to come across.
1. Physical barriers
Many teams have moved their teams remote, some for the next year at least. This creates new physical barriers that many teams have not had to face before.
Some tactics I’ve found to be effective for overcoming physical barriers are:
- Hop on a video conference call or phone call to talk through complex issues
- Provide feedback on a call or in-person as much as possible
- Following up on calls with a written message reiterating what you talked
- Having clearly laid out process documentation for your team to follow (written and video)
It’s easy for the nuances of communication to be lost through text, so difficult and complex conversations should take place where physical cues can be seen.
2. Emotional barriers
If a member of your team seems disengaged with their job, it’s your responsibility as a leader to figure out how you can help them feel engaged again.
- Are they feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Is their stress related to work, or external, from something else going on in their personal life?
- Do they feel their work doesn’t have an impact? Are they lacking direction?
Often, disengagement can come from a lack of direction. From my experience as both a manager and an individual contributor, having a clear sense of how your work is contributing to the success of your team can make you feel way more motivated.
3. Communication styles
Dear reader, I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of miscommunications. That’s not a knock on you – everyone communicates a bit differently and because of that, miscommunications are inevitable.
Working together as a team means learning how to communicate with each other effectively , despite your differences. This goes for delivering feedback (do they prefer the cold hard truth? Or do they need the compliment sandwich?), communicating progress, and communicating setbacks.
You will never be perfect at this. People are too complicated. But it’s almost always better to err on the side of being too direct.
Read: direct , not callous. Ground your communication in respect and efficiency:
- Be honest and direct with your team members so they understand what your expectations are.
- Respect the feelings and motivations of your team members and try to work with them towards mutual understanding.
Granted, this isn’t as simple as my point form list makes it out to be. For a much more in-depth and authoritative guide to communicating directly with your team, I recommend the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
Team leaders share their communication strategies
I wanted to see how other people in leadership roles communicate strategy to their teams. So I asked some of the most knowledgable leaders I know to share their communication strategies.
Set goals collaboratively with your team
“The truth is, there is no perfect formula for communication strategy effectively with your team. But hearing how other leaders have approached this challenge can help guide you. Here are tips from other leaders on how to communicate strategy to your team: “The biggest help in keeping me and my team aligned when it comes to strategy and our priorities is to set goals collaboratively. That way everyone has an understanding of what our priorities are as a company and how team goals level up into those larger company-wide objectives. To make sure we stay aligned, we talk about our goals every single week, how we’re tracking against them, what we’re confident in hitting (and not-so-confident), and if anything has changed (and why). It’s also a great opportunity to get back on track if we’re behind on any goals, which helps build more ownership across the team. The tool we’ve been using has been Hypercontext Goals .”
— Hiba Amin, Content Marketing Manager @ Hypercontext
“We’re a business that offers plugins to users that can help them grow their eCommerce business. And since we’ve several plugins to work on, we’ve started following a practice where we host meetings for a specific plugin twice a week. In the meetings, we plan a strategy on what things we’re about to improve and how we’re going to do them. This practice lets everyone know what strategy the whole team is following a specific product. As we get enough points to implement, we mention all those points as different tasks and subtasks on the Clickup tool. And align those tasks to the respective person. This makes sure that every individual is aware of the tasks they’re aligned with and they need to work on.”
— Satyam Mishra, Content Strategist @ MakeWebBetter
Focus on communicating the most important information
“Strategy by definition is complex. It’s a stretch to expect a team to understand every little input and metric that leads to the successful execution of a good strategy. As a leader, it’s important to try to distill what’s important into one or two key components or KPIs that your team can truly get behind. Once you do that, repeating that goal consistently and frequently is key to aligning your team on what matters. Lists of data points, or un-engaging spreadsheets are a surefire way to confuse and bore your team. You need to show your employees how to their work ties into the goal, and you need to inspire them to want to hit those goals. Visual reminders and exciting design can help that message stick.”
— Nadya Khoja, Chief Growth Officer @ Venngage
“When communicating a new content strategy to our team we focus on the internal and external components that can help them better understand the process. For example, we recently did an analysis of our client content and uncovered some common themes of the most successful link building pieces, which meant trying to encourage our client teams to adjust their brainstorm process to uncover these opportunities. We tackle the communication a few different ways. First, through an internal meeting with managers so they could understand and effectively educate clients. Next through a wider lunch & learn with our specialist team on how to execute the ideas. And finally through public facing materials like updating our blog, sharing it via our podcast and introducing new training documents. This ensures we’re not only informing the current staff on the process, but new team members are on boarded as well.”
— Caroline Gilbert, Director of Marketing @ Siege Media
“We’ve spent some time talking about long-term goals. I don’t want my team to get bogged down in today’s challenges. Our plans will not be hampered by short term issues and I want everyone to know that’s true.”
— Ben Reynolds, CEO $ Sure Dividend
Be honest and direct with your team
“As a manager and business owner, it is critical for me to improve my communication skills that will be effective when dealing with my team. In terms of disseminating information and strategies with them, I made sure to not sugarcoat anything and be straightforward, especially with urgent and complicated matters. This made us more transparent with each other and developed a clear path of discussion. I also motivated them to be open and freely express their opinions and suggestions. Since we are in a remote work set-up, we are aided with communication tools such as Slack and Zoom to reach each other. Aside from being user-friendly, these tools are both serving their purposes for the team, allowing as to conveniently discuss any concerns at any time. Before the pandemic, we were able to have in-person meetings for urgent and important projects and issues, but now, everything is done virtually.”
— Sonya Schwartz, Founder @ Her Norm
“Your communication needs to be Clear and Explicit. When employees or people who are going to be a part of a strategy aren’t available in a common room, it becomes challenging to make everyone understand it. One of the best ways to communicate strategy to remote people is to make it simple, clear, and explicit. The strategy must have a clear vision, mission, value, process, and tactics. People must be able to understand what a company wants to achieve and how it will be achieved.”
— Rahul Vij, CEO @ WebSpero Solutions
Show empathy in your communication with team members
“There are two things which were important to the tone of my conversations with my employees during the past months: Confidence: These were dire times but it was vital to not allow panic to take a grip on our everyday work. Empathy: Besides being difficult times for the company, these were extraordinary times for all of us. It was important to have our HR research actionable tips for our people to make it safely through this pandemic.”
— Kuba Koziej, Senior Vice President & Growth Specialist @ Zety
“I always make sure to ask how my employees are doing before laying out instructions or new protocols to them. It’s best to know and assess the mental state of your staff before feeding them pieces of information again. In communicating, I always put my emotions at a bag and never carry it, knowing that as a boss, I should be more understanding at all costs and look at the bigger picture of things.”
— Willie Greer, Founder @ The Product Analyst
Take the time to verify that you have been understood
“When communicating strategy, you should always make sure you’re understood. Like giving instructions before playing a game, ask comprehensive checking questions. Stopping to ask does that make sense? And waiting to hear a yes or no helps break up your communication into digestible chunks. Some people are auditory learners, while others are more visual. Therefore, it’s helpful to use different platforms to communicate your strategy. Asana is a useful tool for those who like to see everything in writing. You can use Loom to record and send videos of you explaining things for more auditory learners.”
— Siva Mahesh, CEO @ Dreamshala
“A big part of successfully communicating strategy is understanding that not all people take in information in the same way, and its because of this I think repetition is key. When presenting strategy to clients or a team, offer the strategy in a number of different ways – these could include Presentation, Graphs, Written Document, Audio File and more.”
— Daniel Foley, Director @ DanielFoley.co.uk
“I believe in the importance of strong communication with employees. It’s critical to communicate often about the direction of the company, goals, engagement with the partners, and opportunities. I believe that it’s important to share strategy and messages with the team so the entire group is moving in the same direction and committed to the overall success of the business.”
— Deborah Sweeney, CEO @ MyCorporation.com
Build processes around communication
“ We usually do a lot of training in house at Klint. These days not only is it harder to sit with clients, but we’re struggling to cope with so many new rules related to Covid19 and personal space. This has given rise to more remote opportunities overall. The reality is; retention of information is low even when it’s a 1 for 1 in person explanation. We’re getting larger magnitudes of “communication loss” once we move to live digital explanations on google hangout or zoom. The distraction is only one tab away and if you’re anything like me- I have a 1000 of them open right now. The result of this chaos is actually that my communication has actually gotten a lot more structured. These days my writing is more concise and a lot of my work comes with a video explanation. Everything has to be organized this way from our digital marketing clients projects to our in house growth-hacking playbooks If you’re not using Google Sheets, Airtable, One Drive, etc; I don’t know how you’re maintaining control over any of your processes.”
— Taylor Ryan, CEO @ Klint and ArchitectureQuote
“We have built new procedures to ensure that our remote and in-person teams can collaborate efficiently and team members have ready access to the information they need. The current crisis has taught us that internal communications are the cornerstone of any business resilience strategy. Our priority is to create a framework to ensure that our team members are constantly updated, engaged, valued. Sending communications in real time segmenting messages to different audiences is a vital part of this framework. We ensure that our team members stay engaged and connected and are proactive in providing guidance and support to those who need it.”
— Matt Bertram, CEO & SEO Strategist @ EWR Digital
“To stay on strategy I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate by setting up regular e-mails, video/conference calls. If the lines of communication are open and everyone makes an effort to listen and be heard then collaboration will happen naturally and the information will flow. Pivoting to online meetings,/webinars is a smart and productive way companies can continue to have conversations that educate/inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis. If small groups want to talk through specific issues (managing anxiety/kids/parents) virtual coffee meetings online have been helpful too. “
— Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO @ Mavens & Moguls
More visual communication guides:
How to use visual communication: definition, examples, templates.
Growth Strategy Checklist: Plan Your Business Goals With These 5 Templates
Aug 28, 2020
How to Present a Strategy in 6 Slides
The basic business strategy outline that i start with every time..
Strategic thinking is a trait that separates executors from leaders. When your boss asks you to create a strategy, know that you’re being given an opportunity to prove that you’re a leader. A well-crafted presentation is one of the best ways to merchandise your strategic thinking and should…
More from Shea Cole
Full-time marketer, part-time writer. VP Marketing at Field Effect. American living in Canada.
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Six Steps to Communicating Strategic Priorities Effectively
Leaders can signal their commitment to a strategy by clearly communicating their strategic priorities to external stakeholders.
- Developing Strategy
- Executing Strategy
The Strategic Agility Project
To drive execution, leaders often translate strategy into a handful of strategic priorities designed to increase alignment throughout the organization. When it comes to communicating their objectives, most executives focus inward, on getting their message out to managers and employees through town hall meetings, emails, and other forms of corporate communication.
In many cases, however, it’s just as important for leaders to communicate their strategy externally , to key stakeholders, including investors, customers, suppliers, regulators, and the media. By committing to a handful of priorities that matter most over the next few years, an organization can signal its intended strategic direction. A clear strategy can attract potential investors, employees, or external partners who buy into that direction and are willing to bet on its success. When strategic priorities are linked to explicit metrics, furthermore, they have a framework for evaluating a company’s progress toward its desired destination, in a way that more abstract guidelines, like a vision or mission, cannot.
Many large organizations do, indeed, publicly communicate their strategies. As part of a broader research project on strategy execution, we analyzed the annual reports and Form 10-Ks of all companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (S&P 500). (Our blog post “How to Recognize a Strategic Priority When You See One” describes this research.) We found that 71% of S&P 500 companies reported their strategic priorities.
Although public statements of strategic priorities are common, they don’t always do a good job of clearly signaling a company’s future direction. Many S&P 500 companies list strategic priorities that are too numerous, vague, difficult to measure, or untethered from an underlying view of how the management team will create and capture economic value.
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Based on our analysis of S&P 500 companies and our work with organizations trying to communicate their strategic priorities, we identified six characteristics that increase the clarity and credibility of external communications. Leaders communicate strategic priorities most effectively when they do the following:
- Limit strategic priorities to a handful. A narrow set of clear objectives indicates that the top leadership team has done the hard work of making trade-offs among competing objectives. This effort of making choices — rather than publishing a laundry list of goals — signals the top leaders’ commitment to those objectives. A handful of strategic priorities makes it easier for external stakeholders to assess what matters most to the company.
- Provide a concise explanation of what a priority means. Some companies listed short strategic priorities like “invest in infrastructure” or “international expansion” without elaborating on the meaning of these objectives. Other companies, in contrast, provided concise descriptions that fleshed out their priorities. Salesforce.com, for instance, elaborated on its priority of “expanding into new horizontal markets” by explaining that as “part of our growth strategy, we are delivering innovative solutions in new categories, including analytics, commerce, and IoT [internet of things].” 1
- Clarify how a priority will be accomplished. Another way to flesh out what a strategic priority means in practice is to give concrete examples of how the company intends to achieve that objective. Salesforce.com listed “extending existing service offerings” as another of its strategic priorities and provided an example: “We have invested heavily in artificial intelligence capabilities to create Salesforce Einstein, which will allow users of our products to deliver more predictive customer experiences.” 2 Concrete examples assure stakeholders that the company understands what it will take to reach its goals.
- Explain why a priority matters. Companies should communicate why their priorities matter strategically and how they will help create and capture value. Expedia, for example, spelled out why its commitment to product innovation matters in terms of value to customers: The company’s innovations “make researching and shopping for travel increasingly easier and help customers find and book the best possible travel options.” 3 Clarifying the “why” behind the “what” is particularly important if the priorities do not have an obvious impact on the bottom line in the short term.
- Measure progress toward achieving the priority. Some companies report a priority’s progress by tracking concrete metrics, such as cost reductions, market share, or new products launched. Video game producer Electronic Arts measures progress against its “commitment to digital” by tracking growth in digital sales on an annual basis. 4 Measuring progress reinforces that the priorities still matter, that management takes them seriously, and that leaders will stake their reputation on making material progress — all of which increase the credibility of these commitments.
- Set specific targets for the future. Leaders can signal their commitment to strategic priorities by setting concrete targets. In 2014, cruise ship operator Carnival Corp. gave teeth to its priority of “sustainable operations” by publicly committing to install “new air emissions technology on approximately 70% of our fleet by 2017.” 5 By staking their reputation on hitting the targets, managers decrease the odds that these objectives will be dismissed as “cheap talk.” And once they achieve these targets, they also increase their credibility with external stakeholders.
These six steps are simple and intuitive, yet very few companies we have studied consistently do all of them. We identified 1,508 strategic priorities from S&P 500 companies that published strategic priorities in their annual report or 10-K. Of these priorities, only 41 (fewer than 3% of the total) met all six of our criteria. (See “Few Priorities Meet All Criteria for Effective Communication,” which displays the percentage of objectives meeting these characteristics.)
There may, of course, be sound competitive reasons to keep a company’s objectives secret. The very prevalence of public reporting, however, suggests that the benefits of publicly communicating strategic direction to external stakeholders often outweigh the benefits of cloaking a company’s priorities from rivals. And leaders who do want to signal their future intentions can use the six characteristics described above to increase the clarity of their communication and credibility of their commitments.
About the Authors
Donald Sull , who tweets @simple_rules , is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Stefano Turconi is a teaching fellow at the London Business School. Charles Sull is a partner at Charles Thames Strategy Partners LLC .
1. Salesforce.com, “2017 Annual Report” (March 6, 2017), 7.
3. Expedia, “Annual Report, 2016” (Feb. 10, 2017), 5.
4. Electronic Arts, “Fiscal Year 2017 Proxy Statement and Annual Report” (May 24, 2017), 3.
5. Carnival Corp., “2014 Annual Report” (March 7, 2014), 4.
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