Webster Dictionary defines “organization” as an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, association, etc. synonyms: company, firm, corporation.”

Businesswoman presenting to colleagues at a meeting

An organized body of people can’t achieve its purpose without effective communication. In fact, many believe it’s the glue that binds companies together -- making it an essential leadership capability.

There are many aspects of organizational communication. Having difficult conversations, conducting performance appraisals, and influencing across a complex matrix are just a few. Here, I’d like to discuss one area of particular importance: communication and strategy alignment.

Most strategies are created at the top and articulated to the rest of the organization. Yet, according to Kotter International, seven out of ten employees are “unknowingly misaligned with your company’s strategic direction.” So how do you improve alignment? The answer lies in specific messages, communicated with both consistency and constancy. After decades of working with business leaders, Insight Experience has observed that this is when alignment is highest.

But, what constitutes a specific message? First, leaders must speak to not only WHAT the strategy is, but also the WHY -- the reasoning behind a strategy and why it’s sensible given current market dynamics and organizational realities. Secondly, leaders must CONNECT their team’s contributions to the strategy. Finally, they must incorporate FEEDBACK loops. This accomplishes two things: It ensures the strategic message has been heard and absorbed accurately and it helps gather front-line information that will allow the company to shift with changing market dynamics.

The following example highlights how better communication can help improve strategy alignment:

A Regional VP of Operations for a large healthcare company went on several site visits and discovered there was little visibility into the strategy. So, he created a road show, complete with PowerPoint and video, that explained the what and why of the strategy and included a “you are a critical link” section. He also added a “strategy status” to the intranet, along with a way to collect anonymous questions and concerns. He then enlisted the help of site leaders and held town meetings at each location.

After the road show was over his site managers held frequent strategy update meetings, all with a common format:

1) ask participants to articulate the strategy

2) ask them how they are “a critical link”

3) explain any changes

4) ask for feedback.

All feedback was aggregated and posted on the “strategy status” site. Regular updates from the VP were also posted on the intranet. He held monthly chat sessions and invited every employee.

Over the course of the year, several things happened. First and foremost, with the strategy understood and translated effectively, performance improved. In addition, turnover decreased, morale increased and the VP began receiving valuable information from the field, which helped him adapt quickly to a changing world.

 

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Jean Williams is an affiliate at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.