Why engagement is important
Strategy development is a challenging and therefore, stimulating exercise. People who are involved get an appreciation of the organisation’s business that few people, including the CEO, have.
Executing strategy which involves major change is not only challenging and stimulating but also frustrating. People involved in driving the execution of a change strategy get an appreciation of people’s limitations and their negative personality traits.
Change strategy execution requires full engagement of the people affected. Leaders who are responsible for executing the change strategy often fail to get that engagement. People who are not engaged and are impacted by the change driven by the strategy may react badly. Disengaged people who are necessary to drive or enable execution are unlikely to be involved enough.
Engagement is more than having respect for the people who developed the strategy. Engagement is more than having a good conversation about the strategy.
What is engagement?
Engagement in the execution of a change strategy is the full involvement in the strategy from understanding through to implementation. Engagement has five stages:
- Belief and acceptance
Tips on getting engagement
Each of these stages must be well executed to translate the strategy into the day-to-day activities of people.
Understanding a change strategy is not being able to parrot a PowerPoint presentation bullet point by bullet point. It is being able to understand the context of the environment in which the strategy is developed. It is the ability to extrapolate and interpolate the actions necessary to maintain the strategy as the internal and external environments change.
People responsible for driving the execution of the strategy must communicate the strategy so that all people can understand it. This means using most of the following communication devices:
- One-to one discussions with senior staff to help them “get it” within the context of their department.
- One-to-many presentations to help the widest group of people possible to begin to understand it.
- Newsletters to update people, using a combination of text and graphics to meet different communication preferences. Include interviews with people involved in, and impacted by, the change to progressively personalise the strategy.
- Posters using cartoons or photos in common areas. Change the posters frequently.
- Frequently asked questions” with honest answers available in printed form and on an intranet.
- A moderated discussion forum.
- A person or group of people to which questions can be sent by email for those people who are reticent to voice their queries personally.
- Test for understanding on a regular basis by using formal or informal focus groups.
Belief and acceptance
Senior leaders, in particular, must believe in and accept the strategy. The measure of their belief and acceptance is their actions, not their words.
Frank, enquiring discussions must be had with those leaders who do not display the behaviours expected. They must be informed of the expected behaviours. They must be asked what it is that is preventing them from behaving in the expected way.
The purpose of this discussion is to find out what it is that is preventing them from acting according to the agreed strategy. One may find they do not believe in the strategy. More often, one finds some uncommunicated misunderstandings which can be removed enabling the leader to be involved.
Leaders must care enough about the strategy to give precedence to the actions required to execute the strategy over existing activities. They must allocate resources to the execution of the strategy.
For a strategy to be executed there must be consequences for not executing. For the consequences which are fairly triggered there must be measures of progress in execution agreed by senior management. The consequences of not meeting the measures should be significant and known.
The preceding stages are about what is in people’s minds. However, without planning, the most enthusiastic supporter of the strategy will be ineffective at executing the strategy.
Planning to implement a strategy requires some or all of the following activities:
1. Determination of the activities required for implementation. 2. Estimation of the time and resource requirements for each activity. 3. Determination of which activities can be completed in parallel and in sequence. 4. Identification of the risk events that could reduce the effectiveness of implementation. 5. Development of risk treatment plans to reduce the probability or impact of the risk events. 6. Determination of budget and aggregated resource requirements.
Leaders who meet the requirements of the previous stages of engagement are not truly engaged unless they follow all the way through to implementation.
They must assemble the right balance of people with the necessary competencies to implement the strategy. There may need to be changes in personnel to ensure the right competencies are available.
Implementation needs to be monitored for progress and the risk events identified in planning.
Leader’s need to measure and report against progress and provide early warning signs for previously identified risk events occurring.
Strategies involving major change are high risk and high reward. Leaders involved in the change must be fully engaged to reduce the risk of failure.