Strategy and Execution: Catch the Wave!

In a previous posting (Another flavor of the Month?) I alluded to the fact that when companies execute new strategy, employees see the strategy as a wave; they hold their nose and duck under to wait until the wave passes. As a result, nothing really changes. If this behavior persists, the strategy will fail. How then can a company change employees’ behavior and help them catch the wave?

Strategy must be grounded in reality; but even when strategy is realistic, many employees resist change. In order to help employees change, there are three necessities: education, communication and motivation. When strategy is properly executed, employees understand what the strategy is, hear frequent messages on how and why the strategy is being implemented, and most importantly, they have some “skin in the game” for success.

Before taking up the three necessities, let’s discuss a critical mistake that many companies make; trying to take on strategic change in too large a chunk to begin with. I have seen major corporations try to institute new programs throughout the entire company in a short period of time and fail.

It would be better to initiate the change in one specific area of the company first in order to see how well the change works, what problems may occur and how people react. Using this approach allows the company to improve the program as they go.

Education is of primary importance to strategic change. Education must address key issues: why is change happening, how will the change occur and in particular, how will the change affect me? Employees are most concerned about themselves, and if they feel that the change will affect them negatively, they will resist.

As well, employees want to be sure that there is a good reason to change, and that the change makes sense. Finally, they need to know how they will benefit when the changes occurs; this is what gives them “skin in the game”.

Communication is about using different channels to make sure that employees are up to date on what is happening. In my book, “The Essentials of Strategic Project Management”, I wrote about a major change that took place at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago that could serve as a textbook for change. The museum needed to update outdated information systems at the institution, a project that literally touched everyone.

They started with Town Hall meetings with all employees (I know, Town Hall meetings don’t have a great cachet right now!) to help them understand how the systems needed to be updated to remain consistent with the museum’s mission. This followed with regular communications on project progress. In particular, they used “champions” in each department to keep people updated of what was happening.

Motivation is the final piece of the puzzle; people need to know how the change project will affect them in order to get them to buy in. ideally, change should be tied to an employee’s annual evaluation and salary in a concrete way.

For example, if change includes a new process, then the employees that are responsible for creating or implementing the new process ought to be accountable for the process in a measurable fashion. At the same time, the employees should know how they will be recognized for being successful, either through direct compensation or as part of their annual review.

When a company approaches change with the proper processes for education, communication and motivation in place, their rate of success will be much higher.

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