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Get buy-in or what you want won’t happen

by Ryan Englund on February 20, 2019

     A well-designed strategy combined with the balanced scorecard approach to execution can be used to communicate the strategic vision from the leadership team out to all employees, especially to work teams, articulating how each can contribute to implementing the strategy. Far too often organizations do not commit the necessary attention and resources to gaining buy-in. If the people needed to implement the strategy don’t understand the vision and the strategy to reach the vision, how can they help? Even worse, progress toward strategic goals may be inhibited if people are working at cross-purposes. Although each may have the best of intentions, confusion reigns.

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     A key reason strategies fail is that only a fraction of associates understand the strategy. It’s not their fault; it’s management’s fault for not clearly communicating why change is need, what needs to be done, and how they will know if we are moving sufficiently in the right direction. Among many, here are three sure-fire steps to gain and sustain buy-in:

  1. Set an organization-wide goal such that each associate can say it meets these criteria:
    1. Aspirational – I feel excited about getting there.
    2. Inspirational – I sense I am engaged in a worthwhile cause.
    3. Measurable – I will know whether we are getting there.
    4. Attainable – I believe we truly can get there.
    5. Time-based - I agree we need to get there by this date.

     For example: U.S. President John F. Kennedy, asked Congress in 1961, “to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:”

  1. Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth by the end of the decade;
  2. Funding for the Rover space exploration system;
  3. Space satellites for world-wide communications; and
  4. Satellites for world-wide weather observation

     In 1961, those were indeed lofty goals – but the nation got behind them and they happened. Why? Because most of us understood why the goals needed to be achieved and we shared a sense of urgency, particularly with #1 – especially those of us in weekly “duck and cover drills.” Well-organized funding launched a series of initiatives that cascaded throughout the country to educators, scientists, engineers, managers, and others, with each of the plethora of teams finding its own role in achieving the national goals. Note that the paramount goal communicated was progress towards getting to the moon.

     II. Communicating Strategy that one believes will achieve the goal.  Explain the case for change, emphasize the lofty goal, and clarify the story of the strategy by establishing a short, focused list of organizational-wide objectives, measures, and targets.  

     Of course, doing that at a high level alone may help communicate the overall strategy, but it is rarely sufficient. When work teams develop their own cascaded objectives, measures, and targets that are clearly aligned to those elements in the organization’s strategy, then most teams will understand what they need to focus on – not everything in job descriptions, but the top two or three things that really matter and that matter now.

     III. Report results, see how things are working out, and explain what’s going on. Celebrate wins and tell how you’re going to fix what didn’t work. Moreover, if each team believes in the case for change, and they know how they are to contribute, they will quickly figure out what changes they need to make, without bureaucratic directives. Results happen, in the words of more than one top executive, “like magic!”

     Experience supports the idea that strategy is typically directed from the top of the organization; but it is always executed from the bottom up. Top management sets the long-term goal, seeks buy-in, and allocates resources. Work teams understand their roles within the context of strategy, identify the actions to reach the goal, report on results, and propose improvements to their action plans as results are monitored and analyzed.

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Topics: communicating strategy

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