This post is a part of Strategy Month—my 30-day LinkedIn series aimed at bringing strategy down from its lofty perch and providing the ideas, techniques, and tools to democratize strategy in your team or organization. Last week was Strategy Creation week, with videos, exercises, and tools to help you develop your strategy. Today is the start of Strategy Mobilization week. You can follow along here.
What percentage of the employees in your organization could tell me your strategy? Is it lower than the percentage that could juggle three running chainsaws? ‘Cause if so, you have a problem.
Your strategy shouldn’t be the best-kept secret.
Sure, if one of your strategic projects is an acquisition, you’ll want to keep that under wraps, but otherwise, your employees should know your strategy. Think about it for a moment: if your employees don’t know and understand your strategy, how the heck are they going to implement it???
So why do leaders keep their strategies hidden among only a small cadre of the most senior people?
Hypothesis #1: They don’t have a strategy in the first place. Sadly, this might be one of the most common reasons. The leaders have a goal, a plan, and a budget, but not a strategy. If it doesn’t exist, you can’t share it.
Hypothesis #2: They equate strategy with strategic projects. If leaders think that the totality of the strategy is just the small number of strategic projects the organization runs out of the corporate projects office, then the only people who need to know about it are the people involved in the projects. (Logical conclusion, faulty premise.)
Hypothesis #3: They don’t believe employees could add any value. I know there are egotistical leaders out there who can’t fathom that middle managers and front-line employees could possibly have a hand in executing strategy. The elitism associated with the concept of strategy really makes me furious.
You can probably add reasons 4, 5, and 6 (and you know that I’d love it if you shared them in the comments), but I’ll stop there for now.
Strategy is Secret
But isn’t it risky to share our strategy? Won’t competitors try to copy it?
First, I’m not saying that you should share all your strategic projects with the full employee base. There are likely to be a few sensitive investments in your product roadmap or your geographic store footprint that you don’t want to get around. But as I keep saying, your strategic projects are not your strategy.
If you do it right, your strategic imperatives should be uniquely yours. They come from a combination of your north star and your strengths and weaknesses. If your competitors got wind of them, they might have a heads up about which flank you’re coming from, but they’ll know that from watching your actions anyway (if you want proof of this, just look at how carefully tech firms watch patent filings).
Why Everyone Should Know Your Strategy
If everyone knows your strategic imperatives, you’ll quickly see that they are much more helpful lenses than you realize. You might have thought about them in one light, but as people apply them to different roles, different situations, and different superpowers, they breathe even more life into them.
Like at the airline that had “Remarkable Experiences” as an imperative. The HR lead asked, what would it take for our performance reviews to be just as remarkable as our airport experience? YES! Amazing. Because employees who can count on a remarkable performance management experience are going to be more likely to pass on a remarkable boarding experience.
A SaaS (software as a service) business communications firm where the imperative was “Simple and Seamless” because they wanted to serve the small business market profitably. The operations team got just as excited about simplifying their internal processes to they could increase productivity. Hooray!
A business process outsourcer where the imperative was “Rise in the Ecosystem” had everyone thinking about who else they knew in the real estate, legal, and financial services industries that might help them gather intel about friction points in the system where they could add services.
Only Those Who Know Can Help
It never ceases to amaze me how many incredible ideas come from employees who are mobilized to contribute to strategy execution. Giving them your strategic imperatives to wear as lenses on their everyday activities creates phenomenal leverage that you just can’t get from strategic projects, no matter how many millions you spend on them.
So, if you’ve got your strategy locked up in a drawer, haul it out. Spread the word. Encourage employees to think about how they can make different decisions every day that will support the execution of the strategy. You’ll be inspired by what they come up with. If you tune in to day 13 of Strategy Month on LinkedIn, I’ll share an exercise to help you mobilize your whole organization.