You can boost your employees’ morale with a clear strategy. Clarifying your strategy and communicating it to employees can help them focus on the future, get a new sense of purpose, and focus on what matters.
Who Needs a Strategy Anyway? Business strategy has become a rare commodity lately. In their 2022 State of Talent Optimization report, the Predictive Index has found that only 46% of small to medium business CEOs have a strategy. One wonders how any business can operate without any sense of where they are going. And that is the crux of the matter: they can, but at the cost of a massive tax on execution.
When It Comes to Strategy, Less is More In the world of Fortune 500 companies, a business strategy is the result of months of planning. In the SMB world, we think that a strategy is simply the clarification of the goals the company leaders seek to achieve. A strategy does not need to be fancy or complicated. The simpler the better, because the only purpose of the strategy is to point people to what matters: it helps employees make decisions that will get everyone closer to the goals. In fact, most business owners and CEOs already have a strategy; this is the set of implicit assumptions and goals that guide each daily action. But that strategy does not really exist until it can be communicated to employees.
A Piece of Paper Might Suffice In our work, we often help CEOs and business owners clarify their objectives and discuss the unspoken assumptions that support these objectives. There is no official definition for what strategy is; we define it as the guiding principle that directs decision-making towards desired outcomes. It may be as simple as defining your goals for the year and how you will reach them. You’d be surprised how re-energized they feel just from seeing on paper what they want to achieve. It somehow feels like these goals are more achievable once we’ve put a name to them. And this is exactly what happens. What matters is to have words to describe the strategy because words force you to be specific and avoid ambiguity. And when words describe goals, these goals can be communicated to employees.
Strategy is Like Vitamins for Your Employees The pandemic crisis has first and foremost been a mental health crisis. The pervasive sentiment is of exhaustion, confusion, and anxiety. Frankly, we believe that the Great Resignation is really people’s attempt to seek relief from that funk. As a CEO, you can use strategy to help your employees out of the gloom. How? This is incredibly simple: strategy gives employees a purpose, and it takes them out of the present to focus on the future.
What’s Your Purpose? Purpose is the essence of life. As human beings, we need meaning and purpose - the feeling that we matter and that we can make an impact. Purpose is what makes someone want to get up every morning. Unfortunately, that rarely happens at work: in a recent article, McKinsey reports that over 80% of employees declared it as important to have a purpose, but less than 50% report their company’s purpose actually having impact. As a leader, it is your job to give purpose to your employees. We are not talking Dalai Lama-level meaning of life. We mean:
● Explaining what your goals for the year
● How your company competes (e.g., based on cost, on customer intimacy, on innovation).
● Why customers buy from you
Back to the Future A simple strategy will also project employees into the future. While the present may not be fun, the future is full of promise. The future is where dreams get realized and where hope lives. When you make employees realize how they can each contribute to your goals, when you paint them a future that looks better than the present, you give them an extra boost. Not everyone rows in the same direction with renewed energy. And employees want to stay because you give them a reason to.
Your Strategy Only Exists if Your Employees Understand It Documenting your goals is the first step. The second step is to make sure that everyone is aware and understands them. This is where many leaders stumble: they think the hard work is to define the strategy, and that it will be smooth sailing from here. In reality, this is the opposite: the hard work is to communicate the strategy over and over again to employees to make sure they understand it. It is a case of perception vs. reality: the real execution of your strategy depends on how your employees perceive the strategy. Therefore, your #1 job as a leader is to constantly speak about your goals, and make sure your people “get it”.
You Can Measure How Well Employees Understand (and Execute) Your Strategy As you may already know, we use Line-of-Sight to assist business owners and CEOs in documenting their goals and ensuring their employees understand these goals.
Line-of-Sight uses rigorous surveys to accurately measure how employees perceive their company’s operations. One of several critical areas we measure is literally how well employees have internalized the strategy: do they know what the strategy is? Do they know on which basis the company competes? Do they trust the leadership? When we point out to leaders how much (or how little) their employees truly understand their goals, they have a chance to course-correct and re-explain what they want to achieve. Sometimes, it is as simple as scheduling town-hall meetings with employees to go over the strategy again, and regularly walking the floors to reinforce it by “catching employees in the act of doing it right”.
Don’t Pay the Execution Tax, and Retain Your Employees The single, most effective way to execute your strategy well is to make sure everyone understands it. When that happens, you minimize the “execution tax” that otherwise comes from employees behaving in ways that are counter-productive - because they don’t know better. Our interventions are simple: we use Line-of-Sight to measure how well employees know the company’s goals; if needed, we help leaders clarify and document their strategy; and we help them make sure it is known, understood, and embraced by employees. If it has been a long time since you documented and discussed your goals with all your employees, let’s talk.