By Rommin Adl, Executive Vice President at BTS
We know that in general, people don’t go to work in the morning with the intent of forwarding high-level company or even functional or business unit priorities. They are driven by the opportunity to make a contribution, engage in work that they are passionate about, make an impact and feel that there will be personal benefit to them.
It therefore comes as no surprise that individuals inside companies are often disconnected from the broader strategy, and that this disconnect inhibits successful strategy execution. This is evidenced by the recent research study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by BTS titled Mindsets: Gaining Buy-in to Strategy, which showed that while organizations were great at building buy-in to strategy at the c-suite, they saw a strong drop-off as they went down the corporate hierarchy. Top performing companies experienced a drop off in buy-in at lower leader levels, but they saw it at a significantly lesser degree than bottom performing companies.
Buy-in drops like a waterfall as you move down an organization hierarchy
The key to the success of top performing companies in building buy-in was that management made a wholehearted effort to sell the benefits of the strategy and focused on making it personal for each individual. This personalization of strategy is a significant challenge for leaders in large organizations, who often struggle to scale the strategy down into an organization with thousands of employees who are their frontline to the customer.
The challenge of aligning people to strategy and building buy-in is particularly apparent below the C-suite in most organizations. In another BTS-sponsored research study titled Cracking the Code on Strategy Execution, we found that CEOs tend to have an overly rosy picture of how easy it will be to turn strategy into reality, while leaders at the next levels were much more skeptical about being able to turn strategy into results.
When executing strategy, leaders should ask themselves the following 5 questions:
- After the strategy has been launched, to what degree do managers and individual contributors say they are bought into and connected to the company’s strategy? To what degree do their actions show otherwise?
- How can leaders best connect corporate priorities to the context of the business at the business unit and functional levels? Part of making this happen is establishing clarity around where the organization is and where it is going (the “from – to”) and aligning outcomes and metrics to this in order to ensure success. In many situations, we have seen companies shift strategy, but incentive systems, for example, have lagged significantly or not been changed at all.
- How can leaders most effectively enable people throughout the organization to identify with, relate to, and embrace the strategy? How do they make it personal for people so it really resonates with them and inspires them to execute on it? This requires clarity about how individual roles and responsibilities strongly contribute to broader company goals.
- How do leaders communicate, and ensure people understand, what is in it for each individual? What does success mean for each of them? (This can be related to more compensation, promotions, status, benefits, job security, etc.)
- When the business context changes, what leadership capabilities are needed to make the new strategy a reality?
These questions are all critical to helping leaders figure out their gaps and what exactly they need to do to turn strategy into action.
Turning strategy into results is never easy, especially in large organizations where getting the message out and soliciting buy-in throughout all levels of the organization is difficult. Making strategy personal for people is key to success. To personalize strategy, leaders at all levels need great leadership skills and capabilities, and the focus on making it happen.