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How business strategy can help bridge the gap between top executives and their employees

John Hosking

John Hosking a partner at business strategy consultancy, Cognosis, offers tips on how to implement a successful strategy which will engage employees at every level of the business

From our research, we know top executives often believe their strategy to be much more exciting than employees do. They also think their employee's engagement with that strategy to be far higher than the reality. This is unsurprising, considering they are the ones most closely involved with strategy creation. However, they are not the ones charged with its implementation. Most of this responsibility falls to middle managers, of whom only around a quarter believe their company’s strategy is exciting, with even fewer satisfied at how their company goes about developing its strategy. In short, their company’s strategy leaves them cold. 

When we researched middle managers in 2007 over half felt under-involved and under-valued in strategy-making. And during tough times businesses tend to become more directive with the implementation of strategy, and spend less time ensuring employees buy into the rationale behind it. Instead they focus more on the short-term, demanding more, faster, with less resource. As many companies emerge from the economic downturn and change their strategies to take advantage of growth opportunities, middle managers need to find a way to bridge the “perceptual gap” between top executives and their employees.

Successful strategy depends on every level of leadership within a business. People you manage need to make day-to-day choices – what they do, what they don’t do, how they do it – and they will look to you to see if you are as committed and passionate about the strategy as you are asking them to be. For you, as well as them, there are four key boxes that successful strategies need to tick:

1. The strategy needs to make sense

Ask yourself: does this strategy make sense in the wider context of the business? Is there a sound, rational logic that you can buy into? If it’s difficult to understand how it all adds up to the big picture people will lose interest and the strategy will fail. Instead, find ways to explain where the strategy has come from, how it makes sense within the wider context of the business, how all the pieces fit together – and what that helps the business to achieve.  

2. The outcome has to be worth it

You are asking colleagues to go on a journey – and it’s a journey they have to want to go on. The ambition of the strategy – it’s vision, goals, targets – need to be motivating and engaging. Helping your colleagues visualise the benefit and excitement of the destination is vital to building their commitment and giving them a reason to change their behaviour. 

3. People have to be personally invested

As a line manager you will know better what personally motivates your colleagues. While explaining the company’s new strategy, give them the opportunity to get involved: the implications for what they do, how they can help overcome the challenges ahead, how they personally can help create that new reality. This gives them ownership of their role in the bigger picture and a personal investment in helping the strategy succeed. 

4.  It has to be clear how they can contribute

People will only get involved in change when it is very clear how they can make a difference. People become disengaged if they don’t feel a personal relevance. You’ll need to break the strategy down into tangible steps that people can see are practical and achievable. Help show your colleagues how you’re going to collectively reach your goals and be very clear about their specific role in the process.

No doubt you will have noticed that a lot of this advice relies heavily on your own personal buy-in of the company strategy. If you’re encountering challenges with this, you will need to tackle this with your managers. Strategy implementation is most successful when it’s two-way. Collect feedback from your colleagues and share this as well as your thoughts with your senior managers. You’ll need to manage upwards to help the company create practical and real ways to implement strategy – look to turn challenges into solutions. You are the critical link in this process, and becoming good at implementing change effectively will be a skill you will use time and again throughout your career.


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