Recognise This! – Strategy can only be executed by those who intimately understand strategic objectives and their role in it.

Strategy is one of my passions. I’m fortunate that helping clients formulate strategy is also my job. Indeed, my title is Vice President, Client Strategy and Consulting. I greatly enjoy my work helping organisations of all stripes develop a strategy for proactive management of their company culture. Yet, I also believe that everyone is (or should be) strategist in their organisation.

Two pieces on strategy I read last week helped me coalesce my thinking. First, fromStrategy + Business comes the ideas of Cynthia Montgomery, Timken Professor of Business Administration and former chair of the strategy unit at Harvard Business School. The article describes Montgomery’s approach to strategy this way:

“When you look at strategy as a frame of mind to be cultivated, rather than as a plan to be executed, you are far more likely to succeed over the long run… To Montgomery, a business strategist is not primarily an analyst of position, or of resources; nor is the strategist purely adaptive, responding reactively to the vagaries of fate. He or she is someone who engages in a conversation about the purpose of a company. The company rises or falls on the quality of that conversation and the way it is used to make decisions about the ongoing work of the enterprise.”

Then, this article discussed the results of a survey of employees to see how many could identify their own company’s corporate strategy when presented with options that included the corporate strategy of their competitors. Employees failed abysmally.

“Overall, we found that only 29.3% of employees could correctly match their company to its publicly espoused strategy… There’s no doubt that training matters. Firms with more direct training initiatives seem to have employees who are better able to recognise what the firm views as its goals. What matters most is documentation that outlines clearly how more vaguely articulated strategies are to be implemented — note that these are not mission statements, statements of value or codes of conduct but actual ‘how to’ manuals.”

I see three new ways to rethink corporate strategy in these articles:

1) Everyone must own the company strategy for the company to succeed.

People who feel ownership over their own direction and personal success are also more committed to helping realise desired outcomes. “Strategists” must not be envisioned as a lofty position that all do not have some sense of direct, personal contribution to.

2) Strategy must be an ongoing conversation, not a point in time.

Three and five year strategic plans have a role, but often fail when those plans are codified, introduced, then never mentioned again. Strategy must become part of the daily effort and understanding of the work.

3) Strategic ideas must be made concrete in daily tasks of all employees.

Employees need to understand how their daily efforts contribute to achieving the bigger strategic objectives. After all, if their work is not aligned with the strategy, why are they doing that work in the first place? Help employees understand how their efforts contribute to the strategy by recognising and rewarding them very specifically for efforts that reflect, reinforce or help achieve strategic plan.

I can already hear the arguments: “But don’t we need doers, not just thinkers?” I argue we are all must better doers when we know the thinking behind our actions. Or in the terms of the researchers in the second study I referenced:

“If we are to avoid employee cynicism and truly motivate individuals to do well for both their companies and our society, then managers need to work harder not just in crafting these strategies, but ensuring employees have the enthusiasm and instruction to implement and execute them as well.”

Do you know your company’s strategy and, critically, how you contribute to its achievement every day? What percentage of people in your organisation do you think could correctly select your strategy from among your competitors?

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