Communicating strategy on a page

In an article titled “The Seven Deadly Sins of Strategy Implementation“, Prospectus, a consulting firm, reports that seventy percent of all strategy is either not implemented or is implemented poorly.

The seven deadly sins are the following.

  1. The strategy is not worth implementing. If management and staff of an organisation do not find a strategy to be challenging yet realistic and based on facts rather than hope, they will not support it.
  2. People are not clear how the strategy will be implemented. If the strategy does not have a clear plan including priorities, time line, participation, risks and impact on staff then it is very unlikely to succeed.
  3. Customers and staff do not fully understand the strategy. If the strategy is not communicated to staff early and often using different mediums, the implementation will fail. If it is left as a ‘need to know’ piece of information, the organisation handicaps itself with only a few percent of its collective brainpower working on implementing the strategy.
  4. Individual responsibilities for implementing the change are not clear. If staff are not assigned specific accountability for implementing elements of the strategy then the implementation will fail.
  5. Chief executives and senior managers step out of the picture once implementation begins. As soon as senior management even look as if they are not committed to the strategy, some staff will become cynical and uncaring.
  6. The ‘brick walls’ are not recognised. The very implementation of strategy changes the environment in which it is being implemented. Obstacles to change, which have not been predicted will appear from time to time. Senior management encouragement to be creative and devise novel solutions is required.
  7. Forgetting to ‘mind the shop’. When implementing the strategy becomes all consuming and the core business of the organisation is ignored, support for the strategy is withdrawn quickly.

A thread common to most of the seven deadly sins is the impact of a poorly communicated strategy.

Often strategies sit in the head of the chief executive and are never written down in a communicable form. The strategy becomes a series of statements such as mission and vision statements supported by some specific decisions and policies. The result in the eyes of the organisation’s staff is a high level view (mission, vision) and a number of actions which impact directly upon them. Staff, however, are left with little understanding of how the actions relate to the high level statements.

A good means of communicating a strategy is to develop a ‘strategy on a page’. In its simplest form it is a PowerPoint slide or a Word document in landscape format that articulates the strategy as sentences or bullet points within a box in a specified order down the page.

article - strategy on a page

The first line is a box containing the vision of the organisation.

The second line of boxes contains the strategic platforms upon which the vision will be delivered. The platforms are described here by a phrase which is easily remembered and repeated, a catchphrase, if you like. The second line usually contains four or five boxes, no more. Whilst the page width limits the number in any case, having more than five strategic platforms in an organisation leads to confusion as to what is strategic and what is tactical. The space limitation actually sets a good discipline.

The third line contains a box describing the strategic platforms in a sentence or two. This is important as it will give unambiguous meaning to the catch phrase.

The fourth line contains all the tasks which need to be completed to implement each strategic platform. The tasks are grouped around like outcomes with one or more group of tasks shown to be linked to each strategic platform by being placed directly under the related platform.

Developing a one page document such as this requires a series of workshops, preferably off site to avoid distractions. The end result, however, is a one page centrepiece which may be used in documents, presentations and meetings to communicate a common view of the strategy from which the purpose of the said document, presentation or meeting flows.

A more sophisticated version is to follow the strategy mapping process of Kaplan and Norton to develop and communicate strategy and a balanced scorecard to measure the implementation of the strategy. Strategies are described from the financial, customer, internal and learning and growth perspectives.

A strategy on a page completed by either method is a powerful visual representation of the strategy. An additional benefit is that when senior managers see their strategy and tasks to support that strategy on one page, they cannot escape the conclusions to be made if the tasks being completed now are inconsistent with the strategy.

If you are implementing a strategy, describe it on a page and then communicate it. That way your staff may help implement it.

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