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4 Steps To Creating Total Strategic Alignment

Most leaders believe that it takes between six and 12 months, or longer, to develop a strategy. They mistakenly think that the criteria for a meaningful strategy are the amount of research and market analysis that goes into it, and the time spent vetting it with experts.

But our observation is that how well communicated a strategy is, is far more important than how logical or well researched it is. The effectiveness of any strategy is directly proportional to the level of ownership, commitment and accountability among the executive team. A strategy is only as good as the levels of commitment the people who are accountable to fulfilling it, possess.

Here are the essential fours steps necessary to create total strategic commitment and alignment.

Step one: Do a commitment audit and tell the truth about the current levels of ownership, commitment and accountability within the organization. Ask people to be blunt about the degree to which they understand – and believe in – your current strategic plan.

Step two: Craft a bold and compelling future. Help your leadership team roll the clock forward two to three years from now. What is a clear, concise and well-articulated 15- to 20-word statement that describes what you are committed to building as an organization?

Step three: Define your specific success criteria. What are the three, four or five key measurable outcomes that will let you know you have reached that future state?

Step four: Get everyone on board with these. This means cascading the process through the ranks of management, sharing the content of the strategy with all levels of staff and listening to and addressing issues of competence, sincerity and courage.

Remember, the issue is not, “What is the right solution?” but, “What will people buy into, take ownership for, believe in and commit to?” When staff buy into a strategy, it’s because they trust their leaders are telling the truth about the need for it, they believe that their leaders have the courage and resolve to address the real issues, and they have faith their leaders are competent to do what needs to be done in order to implement the strategy.

On top of this, when staff feel cared for, concerned about and respected, they will naturally support and contribute to the strategy being realized.

What Can Executives Do To Drive Employee Engagement?

In the last three posts on the topic of organizational commitment we looked at evaluating your companies level of commitment, the way two different CEO’s handle commitment and examined the warning signs for lack of employee engagement and commitment.

In this final post of the series we asked a few other authors to give us their take on the topic: WHAT CAN EXECUTIVES DO TO DRIVE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT? Here’s what they had to say.

“Manage your inner control freak.  You can’t — and won’t — inspire employee engagement and commitment unless you loosen the reins and let go of control.  As a leader, you are there to champion the vision and keep people focused on the big picture.  Beyond that, you need to sit back and allow others to drive the process.  Fact is, your organization’s success is a story that everyone must create and own.” Jill J. Morin, author of Better Make It Real: Creating Authenticity in an Increasingly Fake World.

“Managers who are perceived by their employees as strong listeners have been shown to create work environments with higher levels of employee motivation, better relationships among coworkers and increased levels of productivity — all drivers of employee engagement. When managers listen to employees they begin to understand their passions, strengths and ambitions, and the possible ways these may be integrated with work. Listening helps employees feel understood and valued by their manager and demonstrates that managers are open to new ideas and collaboration (additional drivers of engagement). Listening is the core capability to enable managers to connect, engage and create higher levels of employee performance.” Erik Van Slyke, author of Listening To Conflict.

“If executives really want their employees to be committed, they must clearly communicate the mission statement of the company and ensure that everyone in the organization understands how his or her role contributes to that mission. Understanding that provides meaning for the employees in what it is they do. Too often, there is an environment of them versus us rather than a ‘we’re all in this together’ mindset. That is the mindset that leads to engagement and commitment. Kellie Auld, contributing author for Creative On boarding Programs.

Six Warning Signs You Lack Employee Engagement and Commitment

In the past two blog posts regarding this topic I explored the problem of lack of commitment and looked at two case studies. In this post I examine what to do if you want to tackle your commitment problem. Where do you begin? What are the most effective ways to assess if and where there are commitment problems? Here’s a list of some observable indicators:

1. People don’t speak up even when they know things aren’t being dealt with honestly and directly. This is relatively easy to spot, especially in meetings. Everyone knows important issues are not being addressed. Yet they fail to speak up because of fear or cynicism.

2. Missed commitments met with excuses, explanations, rationalizations and finger-pointing rather than a rigorous and energetic desire to get to the source of the problems, get back on track and take ownership for what went wrong.

3. Problems discussed and debated endlessly, with little lasting improvement from repeated attempts at resolution.

4. Initiatives to improve organizational performance progressing slowly or stalling altogether, despite sizable investments in resources and technology.

5. “Hallway” conversations are also a good indicator and can be easily detected. For example, when people spend their time talking about how things are not their fault or how another department or organizational level is to blame for sub-optimal results, commitment is lacking.

6. When people complain about how busy they are rather than doing what needs to be done, or complain about the unreasonableness of leaders’ expectations, this too can be a good indicator that people are avoiding rather than taking responsibility.

These are the informal ways of discerning commitment problems. We suggest that CEOs who feel they may have such issues go beyond sensing to asking employees directly – the members of their executive team and workers up and down the organization. In diagnosing the state of commitment in dozens of organizations, we have found questions such as these to be revealing. To what degree do employees:

  • Effectively address and resolve difficult issues around here?
  • Take ownership for solving problems rather than make excuses or point fingers when things go wrong?
  • Take risks and challenge the status quo?
  • Have confidence in the leaders of this organization?
  • Feel they can be honest with their leaders, including about negative or contentious issues?
  • Feel connected with, and empowered by, their leaders?
  • Communicate honestly and directly, without fear of retribution?
  • Trust each other and work together effectively across departments?
  • Come to work every day feeling that they make a critical difference to the future of the business?
  • Feel enthusiastic about their work experience?

There are also proven assessment tools and surveys available to help gauge commitment and engagement, the Gallup Q12 being a particularly noteworthy one where a 0.2 improvement along a 5-point scale has been statistically proven to correlate with an improvement in employee productivity.

One word of caution: If trust is low and fear is present, employees will not be truthful about the poor state of commitment. They must feel safe to tell it like it is. They must believe executives are genuinely interested in hearing unvarnished views, and they must feel encouraged to speak up about the real state of things, and praised when they do. Otherwise they will pay lip service to the process and say only the things they believe are safe. Unfortunately, this kind of lip service is more the norm than the exception.

To significantly improve commitment, the CEO and his team must be completely honest about, fully aware of, and own the current reality, especially the aspects that are dysfunctional. Once they understand the size of the commitment problem and no longer take it personally, they can begin to transform the cynicism, resignation, apathy and complacency into an environment of passion, ownership and total support.

A Tale of Two CEOs and Employee Commitment

In a previous blog post on this topic, I outlined the problem of CEOs mistaking compliance for commitment. In this next post, I show the profound difference that owning the commitment problem makes, by comparing two CEOs of $1+ billion-plus organizations, leaders in their respective industries, one a manufacturer and the other a services firm.

Both had significant commitment issues to deal with – weak trust and alignment between levels and functions that were undermining ambitious growth plans. The CEO of the services firm, who rose to his position after having been one of its best salespeople, was a proud but arrogant leader.

Despite repeated attempts by senior managers, including his direct reports, to convey to him the high levels of politics, distrust, and lack of commitment throughout the organization, he wasn’t moved, insisting that employees were “just whining and not doing their jobs.”

As a result, his aggressive cost reduction and productivity improvement initiative gained little, if any, passion and ownership among his leaders, achieved far less than he had hoped, and was an uphill struggle with many excuses and explanations along the way.

The CEO of the manufacturing company was also a proud and tough leader. He rose to his position by having turned around two other divisions in his company. However, when his management team criticized him around the lack of trust and collaboration across departments, he listened – not immediately but over several weeks. He decided the commitment problem was serious enough to launch a process to resolve it.

Admitting the depth of his company’s commitment problems was not easy for him, given his command-and-control style. The results of his growth initiative, however, were spectacular, both in terms of meeting the performance objectives as well as creating a strong platform for cross-functional collaboration and partnership.

Two CEOs. Two commitment problems. Two approaches to solving them – one discounted it, the other admitted it and fixed it. Most important, two very different outcomes in terms of both business performance and organizational morale.

Are you paying attention to indications of commitment problems, or blaming “whiners?” These problems don’t go away by ignoring them.