Don’t confuse communicating with generating commitment

Town halls, road shows, all-hands meetings, and webinars are all popular vehicles for spreading the word and gaining buy-in once the strategic plan has been crafted. Most senior executives will tout these communication efforts as a critical step in helping the organization understand what the strategy means, and what role each person plays in bringing it to fruition.

But while these types of events can generate a significant amount of energy and excitement, they also contain pitfalls that can lead to cynicism rather than commitment.

One of these pitfalls is the mistaken belief that staff are empty vessels, just waiting for the word from above about where the company is headed and what they should be doing to help it get there.

Far from being empty, people are already full. Full with frustrations and disappointments about what executives have said they were going to do in the past and what they actually did. Full from promises made and not kept, and full from accepting requests to get involved in a company strategy and then being ignored when times got tough.

Employees who have been around have little time— or tolerance — for fanfare and hype. What employees want to know is that their bosses understand, and are committed to addressing, the challenges they face in putting a strategy in place.

Take three real examples:

  • In one of the organizations I supported, employees complained that a certain supervisor was a tyrant. However, management didn’t listen. Nothing was done and no one held that person accountable for not demonstrating the values that the senior team were promoting.
  • In another organization, employees expressed frustration that the systems that they had to work with were broken and inadequate, but management seem to ignore the impact that this had on the team, and they didn’t manage the situation or make the proper investment to set things right.
  • I have seen many instances in which employees were caught in the crossfire of feuding bosses, and yet the senior leaders of the company left them to their warring factions instead of intervening and letting everyone know that political gamesmanship won’t be tolerated.

Only by listening to what the employees are saying, with both their words and behaviors, will leaders become aware of and able to address the issues that are preventing them from embracing the strategic objectives management is asking them to pursue. When this type of listening happens, and action is taken, commitment to the strategic plan follows suit.

Like strategy – town halls, road shows, all-hands meetings, and webinars will only be as effective as the environment and atmosphere inside of which they are conducted. If senior management has a reputation for being credible, competent, courageous – specifically open to hearing the truth and dealing with the tough things heads-on and caring, people will wholeheartedly get on board. But if not, then no amount of fanfare and hype will suffice.


Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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