Making It Work at Work

Jim Haudan and Bridgett Stallkamp on November 14, 2012

Companies spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to understand more about their customers’ needs. But rarely is this rigor applied to understanding what their employees need. Root Inc. has undertaken an effort to identify the practices and routines of those high performers who have figured out how to engage employees as customers of strategy; listen to their needs; and provide the support required to deliver results.

Comparing organizations varying widely in size and business model, our Insights group has been able to isolate six emerging practices of high performers. When fully utilized, these practices become accelerants of strategy and engagement.

1. Nurture a Strategy, Don’t Launch it
While words like “launch,” “deploy,” and “communicate” are often used in rolling out new strategies, they actually do not portray what it takes to successfully execute. New strategies are like young children in the sense that they require nurturing to see their full potential. Just as you would teach a child to ride a bike, employees facing strategic change need to learn as they go and celebrate small wins along the way. They need to feel comfortable and confident so that when it’s time to remove the training wheels, they can handle the path ahead. Organizations have a very real responsibility to help develop their employees’ capabilities so the strategy can survive and thrive.

2. Hardwiring the Last 100 Yards
For people on the front lines, there is often a disconnect between a new strategy and the work that they do every day. Employees need to have clarity and purpose if they are going to drive your strategy. They need to understand and be aligned with your goals and know how they, in particular, can impact the bottom line. Your employees should be a part of the conversation, not just sitting on the sidelines waiting for direction. Think of strategy execution as a utility. Strategy is power generation and managers are the transmission power lines. But the final step, the last 100 yards, is when the power must be delivered to the homes that need it. The last step of the circuit is completed by allowing those responsible for executing strategy to make the final connection. Your people should have the tools and confidence to take that strategy and turn it on – making it a functioning part of your company’s practices.

3. The Great Paradox of Accountability
In many organizations, there is a paradox between collaboration and accountability. At one end of the spectrum, companies believe “it’s your responsibility or it’s mine.” At the other end, collaboration impedes progress due to lack of ownership. The solution is to make co-ownership and accountability complementary, rather than contradictory. Cross-functional collaboration creates a spirit of peer-to-peer accountability that allows companies to respond to new market conditions and problem-solve with higher quality results, requiring less top-down intervention. It all comes together and creates a cadence, enabling people to work at their full potential.

4. Return Receipt Required
Many of us request a return receipt when someone opens the email we sent, however, most strategies are passed onto people with minimal interest in whether or not the receiver is getting it. This lack of a feedback loop from the employee to the leader is interpreted in two very powerful ways: the sender doesn’t really care if we get it; and the sender is not interested in hearing if it is clear, understandable, and actionable. This can send the dangerous message to employees that their role is not important and that they are not significant
to your success. Organizations need to complete the loop to ensure there is understanding, embracing of, and passionate execution behind your strategy.

5. Not Lost in Translation
If senior leaders spend six months toiling over a strategy, immersed in the data and surrounded by a unique context, how can they expect their people to view the final presentation and understand what they have to do in a matter of minutes? Great strategists take the time to translate the strategy from the language of the expert to the language of the user. Ensure there is an active feedback loop that can be used to make necessary changes along the way. If your people can’t understand what you are asking of them, how can they successfully deliver?

6. “Why” Matters More Than You Think
You cannot make every decision for your employees. There must come a point where you arm them with as much knowledge as possible so that they have a strong foundation to make decisions on their own. They need to understand why they are doing something and why it is important to the company. Lack of competitive knowledge allows employees to become myopic in their daily tasks, potentially prioritizing things of little importance or de-prioritizing things that make a large contribution. Your employees should understand what your brand is about, what your competitors are doing, and why certain decisions are being made. Empowering your employees to make their own decisions drives their value and that of your entire organization.

If you want a sustainable and meaningful strategy, you need a workforce that is truly on board every step of the way. Strategy without execution is meaningless and execution without engagement is impossible.

If you would like to learn more, please watch the webinar based on these findings.


Managing Change
Leadership Strategies