How to explain the 'why' in your strategy to employees
Helping team members, colleagues, and teams understand the WHY in your strategy is key. What does that mean exactly? Simon Sinek famously said "People don't buy what you do or how you do it, they buy why you do it."
Here are some of the key ways companies can explain the 'WHY' in their strategy and strategy execution:
- Tell employees stories of how it would look if the main goals are achieved - Use metaphors to paint a picture of what the result will look like
- Leaders need to constantly and consistently remind employees of the end goal of their strategy
- Invest heavily in building dialogue and debate across hierarchies to ensure alignment across goals
- Improve cross functional collaboration - employees that have been part of goal creation are much more likely to understand and work hard towards them
- Strip strategy and execution back to these questions - what problems and needs do your customers / market have currently & why you started your offering
- You MUST define your companies core strategic problem
- One of the most important activities any manager does is to interpret the strategy into current actions - this requires fully internalising the strategy
- Followership, or maybe we should call it Fellowship, are the critical next group who ultimately need to be ignited to lead strategy execution, because a strategy is nothing without execution
Kenneth Paul Lewis, Strategy & Leadership Consultant
1- Make it Inspiring: It has to move the masses and make them want to commit to something larger than them. Tell them stories of how it would be like if your purpose was achieved. Use metaphors to paint a picture of what the result will look like
2-Communicate & Repeat: Leaders need to constantly keep reminding the organisation of where they want to go. People should be always aware of the where, the why, the how and the what of their strategic goals
3- Keep the why about the world, the community, the future and about the customer. Not about revenue or other internal metrics.
Nikhil Maini, Strategy Expert
- Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize: The Pareto Principle was never so useful. Choose your top 20% goals that will give you 80% impact to your top line/bottom line. Once this is clear, the rest of the tips below will start making sense.
- Build Clarity using the 3X rule of communication: A great strategy is great only when well executed. This requires communication in excess. People need to be told the who, what, when, where and how and why of the strategy - over and over again. This makes it stick. Help your people understand how they will contribute to goals today that will help achieve the strategy and make it come alive.
- Create a framework for Interdependency and Execution: Socialize the process because participation creates ownership. Choose how people and jobs will interact with each other to create holistic alignment. Help people connect the dots and involve them to decide on how the bigger picture will be achieved. There are many frameworks available from OKRs to SMART Goals to the Balanced Scorecard - Use whatever floats your boat.
- Beware of the Systemic Disconnect: For the system (in this case an organisation) to work optimally, the sub-systems (teams or departments) must work sub-optimally. This is the fundamental premise on which systems are built. In layman language, it would mean that various teams and departments need to have goals that speak to each other and don’t conflict with each other. There is no space for “hero teams” in any organisation, any more.
- Develop Your Own Cadence: Decide upfront, how often you will review progress and what do you want out of those review meetings. Create a culture of coaching and psychological safety for people to be able to have an equitable share of voice. This will ensure agility and a learning environment.
- Talent Scope: Be clear about the talent you have and what can be achieved with your talent. It's frustrating for any company to realise big dreams with insufficient headcount or lack of appropriate talent. Your objective should be to have the right person for the right job at the right time. This would need a thorough analysis of your internal strengths and weaknesses as a company.
Sienam Lulla, Strategy Coach
An open culture. As the saying goes, 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast.' Unless companies invest heavily in building dialogue and debate across hierarchies, alignment will likely be only skin deep. Transparent two-way communication processes should be embedded in the organisation's operating rhythm, and courage for free speech needs to be rewarded. I often see companies adopting frameworks such as OKRs and several new software to drive alignment & collaboration, hoping this will accelerate results. It is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Remove fear, build trust and then seek frameworks to drive alignment.
Saumya Surendran, Strategy Consultant, IBM
Cross functional collaboration. Have a committed goal across the organisation and ensure everyone in the organisation can contribute to the strategic goal. Check in with teams constantly to identify blockers. Ensure that the organisation is transparent and whatever work that anyone does think about how it aligns to the companies strategy.
Daniel Montgomery, Strategic Agility Coach & Author
Involve every level in setting locally relevant goals and metrics that support the overall strategy. This requires lots of communication and conversation, and that investment is absolutely worth it for increasing engagement.
Cansel Sorgens, Strategy Coach
When you think that the “why” is the problem or the need you want to solve for your customers, it is the foundation of your strategy.
There is a long term why: the reason you started to offer a product or service in the first place.
And the mid to short term why: what problems / needs do your customers / market have currently.
When you include these aspects when developing the strategy and explain the why before getting into solutions, all involved people will have a better understanding of why they do what they do.
By putting the why first you can enable an outcome focused thinking.
Tell people the problem/need (why) and let them experiment ideas to find solutions (how & what).
Barry O’Reilly, Business Advisor, Keynote Speaker, and Author
Before we move into generating new strategic possibilities, it’s imperative that we define our core strategic problem. What is our most pressing strategic issue? Do we have obsolete technology? Are low-cost rivals seizing our market share? Are our products becoming less differentiated as competitors copy our features? Or are we “just” growing too slowly?
Richard Russell, Leadership Coach
Listen first - people are much more willing to hear you if you've first heard them.Then, repeat the strategy over and over again. By the time you're sick of it, it's just starting to sink in. One of the most important activities any manager does is to interpret the strategy into current actions - this requires fully internalising the strategy. Finally, make sure the strategy is made concrete in the current time horizon by setting clear OKRs defining what needs to be achieved now to implement the strategy, and how to define success.
Michael Anyfantakis, Digital Transformation Leader, Capital One
Be very clear on the target and also the outcomes that you expect to achieve to get you there.
Tom Marks, Transformation Leader, Hewlett Packard
Fish rot from the head, so start with chopping a few off - then build the most talented team who stand behind a strong, visionary leader who is a passionate believer in the strategic cause and can create followers. Followership, or maybe we should call it Fellowship, are the critical next group who ultimately need to be ignited to lead strategy execution, because a strategy is nothing without execution.
Damien O'Connor, Head of Delivery & Strategy
It comes down to how the strategy is communicated and people are incentivised.
Chris Combe, CDIO Group Functions Agile, UBS
Conversation, visualise and continuous alignment.
Areen Shahbari, Business Strategy Instructor, Harvard University
The company’s vision should state clearly the why behind everything that the company does.
Madalina Mincu, Strategy Coach
Clear, open and fair communication. The "why" must be clearly linked to the companies' core values and fit to the company culture.
Craig Wood, Strategy Consultant
As previously you get them involved in creating it and you use it to guide the culture of the business. Employees will feel a sense of pride in an authentic brand purpose.