Millions of dollars are spent each year in board rooms as executive teams determine the best strategy to win in the marketplace, be more competitive, and change the growth curve to the positive. No doubt it is hard work to get this right. Leaders must marry up market analytics, organizational strengths and competencies, and make the right investments in order to advance the ball. After all of this work, executives feel immense pressure to act and act quickly. I often hear:
- “We’ve got to move and move fast.”
- “It took forever to bake this thing. Let’s make sure we capitalize on it before the market opportunity passes us by.”
- “I don’t have time or patience for employee resistance. Let’s take our pain and get moving.”
In these moments many of us can forget what it takes to mobilize thousands of employees and make them actually “want” to accept the strategy we have invested so much time, energy and resources to create…ultimately sending a smart strategy straight to failure. The pressure executives so often feel leads to rushed implementations that entail wordy memos emailed to employees or standalone town halls where strategies are shared via PowerPoint presentations. These scenarios tend to fail because they are simply a broadcast of information. Success is found when leaders work to design experiences to win the hearts and minds of their people. It’s as a simple as that (which I know isn’t always so simple).
Internal Marketing is a Must
How can leaders work to ensure their people become just as passionate and committed to a strategy as the leadership team who has spent months living and breathing it? The most successful organizations will be the ones who apply the principles of experience design (the five E’s) to engaging their people in change – Entice, Enter, Experience, Exit and Extend.
Consider all the marketing efforts that go into reaching us as consumers to make us “want” things. Driving consumer demand is something almost every organization is willing to pay mightily for – experts predict that marketers will spend upwards of 540 billion dollars globally on advertising in 2015 alone1. Why is this number so high? Leaders can see the direct correlation to getting customers in the door and top line growth. What isn’t always considered to the same degree is: “What if our own people don’t want – or believe in – our strategy and the direction we are headed?”
Executive leaders in large organizations may think employees will like what we tell them to like. After all, we are paying them to like it, to implement it, to give their all so the company can be successful. Their interests are automatically aligned with ours. We can just tell them what we need and they will do it. Right?
This might have worked in the 80s, but it rarely works today. Millennials aren’t going to change their behavior just because you tell them too … and their influence on the workforce is broader than their own generation. I’m finding that designing engagement around the needs of Millennials ends up working better for all generations of employees. This is because Millennials are changing the nature of the employer/employee relationship. They have grown up in a consumer driven economy and they are bringing all of those behaviors and patterns for what organizations have done to win their buying power into how organizations should win over their hearts and minds in the workplace.
Getting our employees to want our strategy is no more complex than helping customers realize they want our products and services. However, helping our customers want our products and services can be complex, so we need to apply the same rigor to engaging employees.
How many positive touchpoints does it take for a customer to think “I want that?” Well, research shows it depends on the complexity of the issue. Impulse buys for low-priced goods are relatively easy purchase decisions. However, premium purchases usually require more significant touchpoints that are sustained (ads strategically placed that are relevant to us, positive word-of-mouth referrals from a friend, having a direct “look and see” experience that goes well, etc.).
Bringing the Five E’s to Life
I believe organizational strategy is a premium purchase for your employees. If they don’t want to buy it, it is highly unlikely they will give their discretionary effort to help execute it. This means you need to engage them in ways that mirror a buying process. You likely won’t win the hearts and minds of your people with a memo from your CEO announcing the bold new frontier of your strategy. If your organization’s strategy requires additional effort by your people or enhanced levels of productivity or customer engagement, then you need to be active in wooing your people to the strategy and helping them discover that “they want it.”
Ready to develop a strategy execution plan that entices your people to want the strategy and extends the effort into their daily work? Here are five tips to consider:
- Tease Interest (Entice them!) – Let your employees know something cool is on the horizon, but don’t spell it all out at once. Give them some time to get interested with a set of “teasers” that entices them and makes the subject interesting … and maybe even fun.
- Create a Conscious Entrance – Instead of expecting people to show up ready for the strategy, welcome and engage people in a way that is personal and demonstrates that they matter. A memo isn’t going to get it done.
- Make Experiencing the Strategy Consumable – Eating an elephant is just about impossible (at least I hope so!). Think through what amount of content and change people can absorb while still doing the critical work needed in their daily work. If people aren’t interested in it or can’t mentally consume it, then your strategy execution plan isn’t going to work. Mix the amount of tell and engagement to ensure people are “getting it” and that they want to be a part of it.
- The Exit is Important Too – Think about what you want people to be thinking, saying, feeling as they leave a Strategy Execution Experience (meeting, event, town hall, etc.). Create an exit that is memorable and connects your employees to the strategy. Sometimes this is done with gifts, contests, or personal reflections and sharing that unite a group to a common cause.
- Extend the Experience by Inviting Employees to Add to the Conversation – The best strategy execution is a two-way experience. Leadership provides direction and employees provide feedback and ideas for how to enhance the next steps. Then leaders provide the next step of direction (using some element of the feedback or ideas from the field) and employees weigh in and continue to make plans and actions more relevant and effective. Your employees are much more likely to “buy the strategy” when they feel part of creating it (even if that creation is the smallest tactical idea they can take action on in their daily work to make a difference).
Designing experiences to engage your employees to want your strategy is a meaningful campaign. It isn’t just an event – think of multiple touchpoints with your people during which you consciously try to engage them versus simply telling them. Use the principles of marketing to get your people to want to understand the content you are offering and to want to contribute to it. This is different than telling people so they will comply with it. Engagement and compliance are different. True engagement captures hearts and minds, and leads to employees giving you their true discretionary effort.