The last three years have felt like a decade of their own. With a global pandemic, political polarization, economic pressure, and increased government regulation, one can never be certain what the next day holds. Add a dash of evolving customer demands, increased competition, and technology evolving at an increasingly rapid pace, and you wonder how we all manage to keep up. Most organizations are now in the thick of strategic planning for next year, and these external forces are having a dramatic impact on their plans for the future.
By and large, leadership teams (and consultants) are pretty good at coming up with new strategies to meet changing demands. But too often they’re DOA. So why do they fail so often? Why is it so difficult to get people to embrace them?
Ideas are easy. Activating them in a way that makes people think, feel, and act differently is not.
A high-performing organization is not distinguished by its ability to see new opportunities through the clouds – it is by taking these opportunities a step further and properly executing them.
Through observing thousands of companies over several decades, we’ve concluded that successful, high-performing organizations follow a similar path when it comes to activating the strategies that drive organizational and cultural change. Here’s your blueprint…
Defining your strategy through Root’s Strategy Activation Process
Your company is unique. Your strategy is unique. Your people and culture are unique. Every moment in time is unique. That’s why it’s so difficult for organizations to perfect and replicate the recipe that enables people to widely understand and accept what’s happening. However, take solace in knowing that if applied correctly, there’s a system that will maximize your chances of wide adoption by the people who need to carry your strategy forward:
- It all starts with your leadership. Does this sound familiar: Your leaders seem to be generally aligned on the path forward. There may be some detractors, but for the most part they’re rowing in the same direction. But stop to take a closer look – are there words or concepts that mean different things to different people? Is there inconsistent understanding of how they’ll operate in the future state? Is there a lack of clarity on how each leader will work with the others to get there? Do they need to adopt consistent behaviors that will further support the strategy? Do they tell different stories of the transformation? If any of this resonates, your leadership team needs to take a pause and get on the same page. Generate clarity, consistency, and conviction at the top and you’ll be set up for success as your strategy is activated.
- En masse understanding and support. Building an organizational movement around a change cannot be done without your people leaders. Your strategy will be made or broken by your managers, so focus first on enrolling them as advocates. Really take the time to give them the skills and tools to properly inform, motivate, and inspire their people so when Go! is pressed, the strategy will be activated quickly, consistently, and at scale. On that note, “Go!” DOES NOT MEAN POWERPOINT. It doesn’t mean town hall presentations. It doesn’t mean the slick video your marketing or comms department cooked up. All those tools have a place, but they’re not going to drive true behavior change. Don’t rely on one-way mediums used to simply communicate information and tell people what to do or feel. If you really want to drive support for your strategy on a large scale, change the conversations your people are having with each other. Connect them – intellectually AND emotionally – to the why, what, and how and give them the freedom to make their own conclusions about how they fit in.
- Sustain the momentum. So your leaders are aligned, and you’ve built great excitement and momentum with all your people. Unfortunately, that sense of connection won’t stick unless you work hard to sustain it. It’s easy to declare victory if the initial rollout is successful, but that’s like calling checkmate on the opening move. Create a path so that people have a way to continue the conversation at a team level. Publicly celebrate successes and admit where you learned things along the way. If you need to pivot and change course down the road, go back to the formula of making sure people understand why, what, and how. Bring new joiners under the tent as part of their early onboarding because it’s hard and frustrating to jump on a moving train. The activation of your strategy is not a moment in time – it’s an ongoing mindset to reinforce support, engage new audiences, and battle resistance.
“Perfect results count – not a perfect process.” – Rob Strasser
Smart strategy activation requires a paradoxical combination of focus and agility. On one hand, organizations must have a clearly defined systems view that is interpreted consistently across the enterprise. Give people the box top of the puzzle and create cross-functional sightlines so they understand their impact in making it all work.
On the other hand, plan for the unexpected. Individuals need to be given both the coordinates of the destination AND the GPS to get them there. Let your people know that the pace of change and volatility is not slowing anytime soon, so an audible may have to be called. If the infrastructure and understanding of the strategy itself are solid, the twists and turns aren’t setbacks – they’re merely shifts in scenery.