If you have a strategy, then you need a strategic engagement plan.
Why? Because the cornerstone of any successful strategy is people, and getting them engaged in what you want to achieve might be a little harder than you think.
In fact, a lack of engagement in strategy is the number one reason we identified for strategic failure. Having been on countless strategy implementation teams, I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen this happen:
The CEO / leadership team are crazy excited about the new strategic plan….
…there aren’t any obvious signs of disengagement when the plan is presented to people throughout the organization…
…but 3 months later, nothing has really changed and everyone is pretty much going about business as usual.
Most of the time, this occurs when the leadership team became overly focused on the content of the strategy, and didn’t give enough thought to just how hard it would be to get people onboard. The larger the organization, the more of a challenge this becomes. We see this the most with ‘new’ CEOs who arrive into their roles full of great intentions and excitement, but who perhaps don’t fully understand the organizational challenges. Nothing takes the wind out of their sails more than when people don’t get behind their new ideas.
The answer to this problem isn’t easy – often it goes to the root of the culture of the organization. But there’s one huge thing you can do to stack the odds in favor of your new strategy – and that’s to take the time to create your strategic engagement plan.
What is a Strategic Engagement Plan?
Essentially a strategic engagement plan is a document that walks you through a series of steps that start even before you start brainstorming ideas for your new strategy. It also outlines clearly what you will do and when to maximize the chances of your new strategy being embraced by the organization. There are 5 key sections to a strategic engagement plan:
- Cascading Strategy
- Strategy Communications Plan
- Combining Strategy & Business As Usual
- Celebrating Success
The steps must be completed in order, and again I can’t stress enough that you need to do this right at the start of your strategic planning process. The reason for this is that a huge part of driving engagement in your strategy requires you to actually involve people in its creation. You won’t necessarily distribute your strategic engagement plan to the entire organization, but you should involve your leadership team in its creation.
Let’s dive into the key sections of your strategic engagement plan and how to put them together…
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The first part of your strategic engagement plan should address how you’re going to go about involving people from throughout your organization in your strategic planning process. By involving people early on, you’re much more likely to get buy-in to your goals. There’s a fine line of course between genuinely involving people in ideation vs simply paying lip-service to their ideas and then doing what you were going to do anyway. It’s fine to have a rough idea of your vision (as a leader, that’s absolutely part of your role) but you need to be open-minded enough to the ideas that come your way as part of this process.
1.1 Identify your stakeholders
Start off by figuring out who the stakeholders are that you want to involve in the planning process. Think broadly and don’t forget that many of those stakeholders might be outside your organization (shareholders, friends and family, etc). Make a list of the different stakeholders both internally and externally so that you can keep track of whether or not you’ve effectively involved them.
1.2 Meet with them
Arrange a series of workshops with each stakeholder group. In the workshop, outline your overall vision and explain to them why you value their input and how specifically you would like them to contribute to the planning process. You might want to prepare a series of questions for these meetings to tease out the key points you’d like their contribution on. Things like:
– What do you think our strengths and weaknesses as an organization are?
– What opportunities and threats do you see for us?
– What do you think we should focus on over the next 5 years?
– Are there any organizations in our space that you really admire? Why?
Be sure to actively engage with each stakeholder group. Write notes from each meeting and send out a summary afterwards by email (it helps you reflect on what they’ve said, and proves that you were genuinely listening to their ideas).
1.3 Reflect the feedback in your plan
You’ll almost certainly get some valuable ideas by implementing this part of your strategic engagement plan. Be sure to reflect those ideas in your strategic plan, and then circle back with your stakeholders to clearly show them how their feedback has been incorporated. If someone has an idea that you’re not able to incorporate, it’s fine to be upfront with them about that – just let them know why you decided against incorporating their feedback. Most likely they’ll appreciate the fact that you listened and gave due consideration to their ideas, even if you didn’t implement them on this occasion.
2. Cascading Strategy
Let’s assume you’ve successfully completed your strategic planning process (we’ve written tons of content on that subject, so check out this guide if you need more help with actually creating your strategic plan). The reality is that your plan will still be fairly high level at this stage, and to operationalize it you’re going to need to cascade it throughout your organization.
Cascading strategy essentially means taking the high level elements from your strategic plan, assigning them to key people, then working with those people to develop them into more detailed goals, which they in-turn then cascade to their teams – etc etc. A strategy cascade will look something like this:
There are systems out there that can help with this process (including our very own Cascade Strategy) but the process for doing this is as follows:
2.1 Delegate high level goals
You should assign a key member of your leadership team against each of the high level goals in your strategic plan. This will likely be an easy process since most strategic revolve around goals that relate to typical business areas such as marketing, sales, etc. Part of the process should be to ask them to work with their own teams to flesh-out that particular component of the plan and then present back that work to the rest of the leadership team.
A great tactic here is to ask them to actually go and create their own ‘sub-plan’ for their team that breaks the high level goal into a number of smaller focus areas, which link back to the high level goal in the main strategic plan. This gives a strong sense of empowerment around owning their own strategy, rather than simply owning a deliverable on the main strategy.
2.2 Present back & iterate
Once each team member has worked up a strategic plan of their own to deliver their component of the main plan, have them present the work back to the leadership team, and use the opportunity to review and iterate to ensure that their understand of the goals align back to the original strategic vision.
Depending on the size of your organization, you may need to repeat this process of strategy cascading several times to ensure that literally everyone in the organization gets involved to some degree. The best strategic engagement plans are the ones which are 100% inclusive. That doesn’t mean that you have to be involved personally in every round of strategy cascade. You can leave that your managers and trust them to ensure that alignment to the overall vision remains intact.
3. Strategy Communications Plan
The third part of your strategic engagement plan involves the creation of a communications plan. This is where you take your strategy on the road and start to whip-up some excitement throughout the organization.
3.1 Stakeholder communication
Remember the list of stakeholders that you drew up in step 1.1? It’s time revist that list, except this time we’re going to figure out a series of mini-plans for how we’re going to communicate the strategy to them, and what outcomes we want to achieve from doing so.
By defining your outcomes, you’ll better structure your messages and communication technique. Here’s a few examples:
Board members have confidence that the goals are sufficiently ambitious, without being risky. They should be confident that we have the resources to deliver this plan, and that they will be regularly updated on its progress.
When you communicate your plan to this group, you’ll probably end up toning down the hype behind the plan, and focusing on the hard business outcomes. Stats and specific KPIs will help to demonstrate to this group that you’ve thought deeply about the detail of the plan and can be absolutely trusted to deliver it.
To give inspiration and hope to our customers that they’ve the made right choice is choosing us as a provider. That they’re doing business with an ambitious, innovative and progressive company. That they themselves are a valued part of the organization’s current and future success.
Unlike the board communication, you won’t be focusing on detailed numbers or stats and your language should be much more inspirational and motivational. Even though you’re communicating the same plan, your delivery is going to be very different!
It may seem obvious that you’ll deliver differently to different groups, but take the time to plan out your messaging for each one anyway – when you’re up there in-front of people, that extra little preparatory step will be 100% worth it.
3.2 Wow factor
Don’t let all the hard work that you’ve put into your plan go to waste by delivering it with a boring old PowerPoint presentation! And worse still, DO NOT deliver a new strategic plan over email.
The benefit of spending a little extra time and money on delivery are centered on one inescapable fact: If your people see that you’ve invested in this new strategic plan, they’ll take it so much more seriously.
When we work with clients in our cloud strategy tool Cascade, we try to encourage them to record videos focusing on the key elements of the plan (the vision statement, the focus areas, etc). Those videos then become a key component of the delivery (i.e. they’re played on a big screen at the launch event) but they also become a reference point for new employees joining the company to understand what their new organization is all about. If you are using a cloud strategy tool for the first time, that in itself will give you brownie points as something new and innovative.
Here are a few more tips and ideas to bring your plan to life:
- Hire an animator or graphic designer to create cartoons for your focus areas (one of our clients based in South Africa did a great job of this using safari animals to represent their focus areas – The Lion (Financial Growth), The Giraffe (Innovation), etc.)
- Arrange a fun launch party that is solely dedicated to the launch of the strategy (don’t tack it on to some other event, that sends a BAD signal about its importance.)
- Invest in some of those cheesy but surprisingly effective desk toys, branded with your new vision/focus areas
3.3 Follow through
It’s so easy to go big on the launch of your strategy, and then just go back to business as usual right afterwards (more on that later). From a communications perspective, one of the best things you can do is ask some follow up questions about how people thought the launch went with each of your stakeholder groups. You could do this in-person or via a survey for larger organizations.
If there were certain aspects of the strategy that people didn’t quite understand, be sure to arrange follow up sessions to address those concerns in more detail. This is not only incredibly helpful for your people, but it also reinforces how seriously you’re taking the launch.
4. Combining Strategy & Business As Usual
One of the hardest things about any new strategy is how it fits in with business as usual (BAU). What I mean by that, is how people juggle executing the new strategy with delivering against their day jobs and KPIs. It’s naive to think that people will be able to drop everything they’re working on and focus their energy on your shiny new strategy. That’s not to say that things shouldn’t change under the new strategic plan – but rather that change needs to be realistic and well-managed.
4.1 Incorporate an element of BAU into your strategic plan
Your strategic plan probably won’t involve changing every single thing about your organization. That would be to ignore your strengths and the positives of whatever has brought you this far in life. A good tip is to actually account for this as part of your strategic plan.
For example, let’s say that your strategic plan includes a major shift towards being more customer focused. It’s likely that you’ll already have some KPIs around this area in your team, so build on those KPIs (make them more aggressive perhaps) rather than replacing them completely. Take a close look at the different projects that are already happening throughout your organization and see if you can blend them into the focus areas you’ve created for your strategy. Don’t force them in – it’s possible that there will be some aspects of your BAU activities that need to cease or change dramatically. But try to find a balance that doesn’t involve a total overhaul from the ground up.
4.2 Create your strategic governance
One of things that should change under your new strategy, is that people need to be talking about the new plan and how their goals are progressing against it. You should absolutely introduce a regime of meetings and reporting that focuses solely on the progress of the strategy. That should include things like strategy dashboards (I’ve included an example from Cascade below), dedicated strategy meetings (at least once per quarter) and inclusion of strategy in all team-meetings.
4.3 Integrate your business processes
The last thing that you want is for people to view strategy as something additional to their roles. Rather, people need to view their roles themselves as strategic and the goals they’re working on should reflect this. A common issue we see is that people will allocate strategic goals to their teams, but then maintain a separate process of annual reviews (for example) that focus on a different set goals entirely. We often see this with clients who are working with legacy HR system that include goal management aspects without clear linkage to strategy.
It’s imperative that anything in your organization which relates to goals (think HR systems, goal management systems, KPI tracking tools, etc) has a clear linkage between those goals and the broader strategic plan. Even if you’re not using a dedicated strategy execution platform, you can achieve this (albeit less elegantly) in Excel and through constant reinforcement of those linkages in team meetings and 1:1 sessions with your staff:
“Ok Steve, I see that you’ve started work on implementing a new CRM system for your team. Which of our strategic focus areas do you think will benefit the most from this project?”
This is another crucial step to proving your commitment to the new strategy and therefore a critical part of creating your strategic engagement plan. What systems will you be integrating and how?
5. Celebrating Success
OK, you’ve done a load of work so far on creating the perfect strategic engagement plan – now it’s time for the fun bit. The last part of the plan involves figuring out how’ll be celebrating the success of your new strategy. I’m not necessarily talking about the ultimate success of achieving your vision statement – that will likely take quite a while. Rather this is about celebrating all of the small wins along the way. The reason is that it’s these small wins which will sustain the energy and focus of you and your people on your strategy.
5.1 Define clear milestones
Strategies tend to span several years – but you can’t wait that long to start celebrating success. Instead, define a series of clear milestones (usually linked to delivery of certain KPIs or major projects) that you’ll be celebrating along the way. You’ll want to ensure that these milestones occur at least twice a year and that they are as inclusive as possible. I.e. don’t always celebrate sales milestones along, as this will likely not be engaging to many of your operational staff. Balance the celebratory milestones across the different focus areas of your strategic plan.
5.2 Splash out
Yep, this is one of those times when you might have to spend a little bit of money! We’re not talking anything extravagant – but you should absolutely think about holding a team event / party for each of your milestones. The actual event should be different each time (don’t let them get repetitive) and might be something as intimate as a team lunch (for smaller teams) to all out venue hire where appropriate. Include a budget for these celebrations in your strategic engagement plan.
5.3 Link reward to strategic success
This covers somewhat similar ground to 4.3 in that what I”m talking about here is making sure there is a clear link between the reward and remuneration your people receive, and the success of the strategy. You can address on two levels: Firstly, ensure that people’s goals (the one they’re measured against typically annually) line up against the strategic plan. So that if they deliver their goals, the strategy succeeds and they get rewarded for it. This creates a clear linkage in their minds between the strategy and their own internal drivers. Secondly, it’s worth considering some kind of company-wide bonus scheme to reward everyone when certain milestones of the strategy are delivered.
As part of your strategic engagement plan, you need to figure out how this reward is going to be structured and much money you plan to invest in it.
As you can see, there’s a fair bit of working involved in creating your strategic engagement plan. You’ll be tempted to skip ahead to the actual ideation phase of creating your strategy, but don’t forget the famous statistic that over 70% of strategic plans fail. If I then told you that lack of engagement was the number one reason behind these failures…Well, hopefully that’s enough information to persuade you that creating a good strategic engagement plan could well be the difference between success and failure for your organization. To help, we’ve created the free downloadable strategic engagement plan toolkit attached to this article. Download it and start working on your own plan asap. Don’t forget to check out Cascade, our strategy execution platform which will also help you with the majority of the steps outlined above.
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