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Three tips to help employees understand your strategy

As a CEO, one of the most frustrating things you can hear from your team is “I don’t understand what our strategy is”.  We have all heard it more than we want to admit.  I used to hear it and absolutely lose my mind.  How could the team not understand our strategy?!?!  We talk about it every day.  All day every day.  Are they not listening?  Is it too complex?  What is the problem?


At lunch one day several years ago I was expressing this very sentiment with my mentor, Bill Tate.  Bill listened intently to my rant, and then smiled and told me….Well, that’s your job isn’t it?  I was floored.  He was 100% right (he usually was).  It is absolutely my job as the CEO of a company to be the keeper, communicator, evangelist, and cheerleader of our company strategy.  If the team does not understand it, then it is MY issue, not theirs. 


As I went back to the office I began to think about the conversations I had regarding our strategy.  I had many of them on the phone with my co-founder at the time.  And some of them in the office with my direct reports.  Often I would discuss strategy with our marketing and sales leaders.  But while I was having LOTS of conversations about our strategy, they were only having a few – with me.  It was then that one of the most important leadership messages I have ever learned dawned on me.  The lesson is this: Don’t say 1,000 things.  Say 1 thing 1,000 times. 


If you want to know the best way to communicate your strategy to employees, it is not to get it into a pithy slogan, or a 1 page strategic plan.  Those are great but they don’t make anything sink in.  The best way to communicate your strategy is to repeat it ALL THE TIME.  In every meeting.  In every all hands.  And best case – every week in a message from you to the organization.  This can be an email, a video (what we offer), or walking around the office if you have one and the team is local.  But repeating it until you are sick to death of it is the best way to make sure that everyone else understands the strategy.  Here are three tips to help your strategy take hold.


Tip #1: Communicate your strategy WAY more often

Technology can help.  Using a platform like ours or others to get your message out is a great way to stay in front of your employees.  The added benefit is that you also keep employees engaged in this message format.  We think video is the best way to do it, but if you want to send newsletters, that is better than just hoping and assuming they remember from the last all hands. 


Tip #2: Don’t be so formal – take a different approach

If you want your strategic message to take hold, it needs to be talked about with authentic messaging.  Consider that it is very likely your strategy will change.  The market will change, the world will change, and your strategy will change.  Letting the team know that the strategy is changing and that you need to adjust should not be a cause for embarrassment - nor should you pretend that the new strategy was the strategy all along.  Authentic communication would be admitting that the current strategy no longer works – or is not optimal.  Telling the team that you and the rest of leadership have discussed the change, and that you want to be available to answer questions and get feedback.  In some cases, you may even need to say…. I was wrong.  Whoa!  Wait!  Is that ok?  It is not only ok, but will actually foster trust within your team.  If they know you are willing to admit that you made a mistake, they know they can count on you to tell them the truth.  That is huge.


Tip #3: Use stories when you can

 Stories are more memorable.  If your strategy is to compete on price and customer service (rather than innovation, technology, partnerships, channels, etc, etc) then find some customer stories that you can deliver.  Talk about the strategy and then give an example of how the company is executing that now.  If you do this weekly, people will begin to look for other examples of execution organically and it will reinforce the strategic direction.  Calling out individual employees for their contribution to the strategy is also a great way to reinforce it.


Most of all, remember that most of your employees do not hear the strategy daily.  They don’t talk about it, or think about it in the shower like you do. You have to take every opportunity, and sometimes even create new opportunities, to repeat and repeat the strategy so that everyone has a chance to be on the same page.