You don’t have to look far to find high flying, hyper-successful, mega remunerated executives doing things they were warned not to do in Business School 101 – that is, acting stupidly. The VW or Glencore case studies come to mind immediately. A less public (not always) and less obvious act of stupidity occurs when it comes to sharing a businesses strategy. Despite years of experience senior executives very often miss opportunities to generate, communicate and implement strategy effectively (another way of saying they make rookie errors). Instead, they come off looking disengaged to the other employees of the enterprise, less intellectually competent than their resumé might suggest and less in control than they would like. Here are 4 reasons why:
- Doing slick presentations: Public Relations is not a substitute for discussion and planning throughout an organisation. Doing slick presentations and mock consultations do not produce engagement and understanding. Discussion does. Discussion with others is how a strategy is derived and understood in the first place. That suggests that at least some of the content of those people is evident in the plan. And if you want the people not included in the initial planning process to engage with the plan then discussion will be part of the process.
- Relying too much on the document: Discussion is more important to implementation than the strategy document. The words in the document or in a presentation rarely reflect how the people arrived at necessary decisions and their real importance. Decisions will continue to be made without direct reference to the document despite any controls and reporting put in place. Outside the organisation the document will probably take on more importance and then the choice of words become even more important as evidence you know what you are doing and public relations.
- Using the wrong language: The ‘words’ you use matter. Study any topic and your language becomes increasingly refined around the subject. Business strategy is one such topic and over the last 6 decades the language has been developing to create traps for the unaware – too many fine distinctions that are not shared, words becoming trendy and losing impact and meaning (see sustainability), language becoming circular (e.g. taking a strategic approach to strategy – refer to strategic agility), and the message simply being shrouded and lost. Taking time to get rid of the unnecessary buzzwords and communicating with people in terms that are meaningful to them is going to deliver a lot more interest, insight, and a better outcome. On the other hand, if a concept essential to the plan is new then take the time to discuss and understand it.
- Don’t follow up: People will not recognize all the changes that occur as a result of discussing the plans. They simply do not join the dots and business life goes on. They may even feel the planning session was a waste of time. If you want your team to value planning then take the time to join the dots for them.
Strategy involves the important work of information gathering, thinking, decision making and communication. The danger as businesses grow is that it becomes a quasi-intellectual, public relations exercise of an elitist leadership in-group. That might sound harsh, however it happens more often than it should. That doesn’t mean the plan won’t be implemented, just not very well. Finding the time to discuss the business strategy and what it means throughout a business is critical.
While I was contemplating this short piece I heard the attached report from Lucy Kellaway on the BBC World Service Business Weekly broadcast. You can draw your own conclusions.
Peter O’Reilly ©