Taking employees on your business journey

Opinion piece from Leigh Tymms

Opinion piece from Leigh Tymms

It might not always seem obvious to employees, but disruption is all around us and affecting the day-to-day contexts of the businesses we work for, meaning that strategy is a continual process as opposed to an incremental requirement.

Opinion piece from Leigh Tymms, Strategy and Planning Director at Clarity

There are various factors creating this disruption across industries, including changes in consumer attitudes, technology, and different competitive sets. An example could be the more recent shifts in perceptions regarding plastic waste and what this means for many organisation’s product and packaging supply chains, as well as how the business behaves and communicates.

Creating a new strategy – or evolving an existing one – is no mean feat and is often just the start of a long and challenging journey. Unless businesses help their teams to fully buy in, the approach will be doomed to failure. A piece of research from Forbes noted that of the 65% of organisations who have an agreed upon strategy, only 10% of organisations go on to successful execute that strategy. A significant proportion of this ‘gap’ can be accounted for by a lack of employee awareness and understanding. We recently conducted research that revealed the extent to which corporate strategy isn’t being communicated internally, with only 14% of respondents from a representative sample of employees across the UK saying they had a good understanding of the strategy of their employer. Evidently drastic improvements need to be made. Jane Young, director of internal communications at Legal & General puts it well, saying, “You’d never communicate with your customers as you do internally. It’d kill the brand. [Businesses] need to fundamentally change how we talk to employees.”

So, the question is, how do businesses improve their internal comms strategies, whilst taking employees on the journey? Getting everyone on board means communicating with them in the right way, at the right time and with the right message. This may seem straightforward, but in reality, complex organisations and limited resources mean it is often not happening.

The importance of investing in an internal comms function

Being a leader in innovation, product development or even creating a new business model, is only part of the equation. Developing a strong brand and sustainable business requires a more holistic approach – to differentiate, to be customer centric and to have mechanisms in place for continued change management. At present, the current pace of change in most markets means there is little room for resting on your laurels, even as a market leader. It requires the right mix of laser focus, proposition refinement, audience segmentation and channel management. 

Why is brand agility the biggest definer of success? 

One common problem with business strategies is they often don’t find their way out of the boardroom door. Just over half of our respondents (52%) believed responsibility for communicating their organisation’s strategy lay with the board, leadership team or senior managers.

Even though strategy rightly starts in the boardroom, it’s the job of senior leaders to work closely with internal communications experts to ensure the messages that flow from that central approach cascade throughout the business. More than 8% of the employees we surveyed claimed their organisation had no internal communications function, which is worrying. It’s one thing to have a strategy but it’s quite another to make it fly. To do this means investing both time and budget into a carefully crafted internal communications drive.

Why internal comms matters as much as an external marketing 

Internal marketing can drive value from the strategy and help businesses ride the wave of change that is already rolling their way. All too often, internal comms is deemed secondary to meticulously planned external marketing to customers and prospects. The issue with this is that it means the science of segmentation is eschewed, and therefore blanket messages are distributed to all employees, with little thought for their different motivations or varied points of view.

Identifying strategy champions brings dividends and it is important businesses find these enablers, in order to build a decentralised structure. Considering more than a fifth of respondents (22%) felt their line managers are responsible for communicating business strategy, it’s clearly vital to instill team members with the strategy and to ensure they believe it and contribute to it every day.

How you engage employees in your plan 

Engagement with the strategy is essential. Just ask the 76% of our respondents who agreed good internal communications is vital for employee happiness. It’s the basis for motivation and advocacy and the lifeblood of any strategy that’s successful, both inside and outside the walls of any business. And it pays through productivity gains. The Corporate Leadership Council found engaged companies grow profits as much as three x faster than their competitors and highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the organisation

However, there’s no denying that communicating strategy is hard. But our research highlighted some simple tactics that employees felt would improve matters at their organisation. The most popular choices were more frequent updates (31%); explaining operational decisions (31%); increased visibility of managers (29%); better tone and detail of communications (19%); and the creation of internal networks around aspects of the strategy (15%).

Clear explanations and the information needed for implementation 

Being open matters. 44% of our respondents felt their organisation’s leaders keep the company strategy a secret, and with a quarter citing dishonesty as a reason for their disengagement, it’s clearly a big deal. To avoid this getting worse, leaders who aren’t getting it right must make a change and liaise with internal communications experts, to clearly explain the strategy and arm employees with the information they need to implement it.

Implementing it via quick fix isn’t possible. Most people don’t have an MBA or marketing degree, so you need to use language they will understand and connect with, whatever their role. It’s time to leave the strategy jargon handbook on the boardroom shelf and be more human. 

Meaningful conversations and the power of giving positive feedback 

Consider whether employees are given ample opportunity to feed their own thoughts, enthusiasms and frustrations into the strategic process. Over half (53%) of respondents agreed they felt like they can contribute towards their company strategy in a positive way. That means 37% felt they couldn’t. So, there is still a big gap to fill before every employee is involved in shaping and driving the strategy.

Ask yourself whether your team meetings are a one-way speech session, or an open discussion forum? Also, consider if your employee survey hits their inboxes regularly enough, and whether it includes a function for thorough and honest feedback on the strategy? By ensuring these actions are put into play, you will already be moving in the right direction. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback. Telling individuals how they are performing in relation to the overall strategy is important. Some 40% of those claiming to be disengaged told us they weren’t regularly praised for hard work. Recognising and rewarding employees who adopt new behaviours and approaches to their role that exemplify the strategy can be an enabler of harmony and change.

Final thoughts 

Following the approach outlined above are the first steps towards creating a call-to-arms for all employees to be proud of and strive to implement. The key is an internal communications approach that gives everyone a reason to believe, and translates into higher productivity, improved sales and better ROI. All of that makes investing in the strategy a no-brainer.

We believe in a new breed of internal communications functions, empowered with the right teams, resources and agency relationships: who can facilitate the translation of lofty corporate ideals into cultures that realise collective goals on a daily basis.

So, going back to our earlier reference of the Forbes research, if only 10% of organisations successfully execute strategy, what’s it worth to your business to be part of this select group? If internal communications is a major facilitator of success – why wouldn’t we make it a strategic priority?

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