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Communicating Strategy is as Simple as Creating a Map

Old MapStrategy doesn’t have to be something reserved for executives or communicated in a secret language that most people don’t understand. By creating a simple strategy map, you can effectively communicate your strategy to your entire organization.

Today’s post is by Sanjiv Anand, author of Execution Excellence (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

A few years ago, I visited a client who was the CEO of the subsidiary of a major French firm. Waiting in his conference room, I saw not art, but power point slides decorating his walls. When he walked in, I asked him what was going on. He said he had the slides up there because he had a significant number of employees take a walk through the conference room each week and read the slides. He felt it was the most effective way to communicate his strategy to his team. I know it sounds funny, but it’s not. Look at what extremes people go to to communicate strategy.

For too long strategy has been the like the keys to the executive washroom. Those who have the keys know what the strategy is. Unfortunately, those who have to execute it have no clue. Town halls, the quintessential American invention of CEOs sharing their wisdom on the direction of company and key themes, don’t do justice to the topic of strategy.

Many firms have attempted to deal with this by expanding the involvement of a large number of employees in the strategic planning process, supposedly a more democratic process as it’s bottom-up. These initiatives are clearly pushed by HR professionals seeking employee empowerment.

The reality is none of this works. Not decorating the walls with power point art, nor the bottom-up approach. The bottom-up approach doesn’t work because as one goes deeper in the organization, the role becomes less strategic and more operational. And the tendency of management taking a bottom-up approach is to then think operationally and what the potential strategy could be keeping current processes in mind, while good strategy is about change and innovation.

So what works?

The primary responsibility of formulating the strategy is with the people whose jobs depend on it and are closest to the shareholder. At the same time they have the responsibility of communicating the strategy effectively to the rest of organization – not in a mumbo jumbo way, but in ways that can be easily understood.

Using the Balanced Scorecard approach allows executives to summarize the strategy in a strategy map, an outline typically including four perspectives: financial, customer, process, and learning and growth. A strategy map identifies the top 25 financial, customer, process, and organizational objectives – kind of a cockpit view of the strategy. It’s a Google maps version of strategy – how to go from point A (people and processes) to point B (deliver customer success and financial benefits).

Strategy Map

The map can then be converted into 3-4 strategic themes – customer excellence, performance excellence, innovation, globalization, etc. These tend to be the most common ones. Not only can the Strategy Map be shared, but the key strategy themes can also be shared.

An agenda can then be built around reinforcing this message with the wider organization. Training programs can be designed to enforce the themes, external speakers can be brought in, awards can be created to drive behavioral change to communicate and deliver the strategy, case studies of successful firms with similar themes can be created. These are all very effective ways of communicating strategy within an organization.  Sometimes it’s not just the employees within an organization that crave a clear communication of strategy – it’s also investors, boards, and even suppliers.

In a flat world, where markets and competitors are global, and things change overnight, effectively communicating and executing strategy has become the holy grail of business. The days of 30,000 foot strategy are long gone. What’s the point of having a strategy if you can’t communicate or execute it? Remember, as the saying goes, don’t fight a battle you can’t win!

Execution Excellence– Sanjiv Anand is the author of Execution Excellence: Making Strategy Work Using the Balanced Scorecard. He is Chairman, Cedar Management Consulting International, and is a NYU Stern and HBS Alumnus. A recognized Balanced Scorecard thought leader, Anand has more than 30 years of global management consulting experience and has worked on 300 different scorecard designs across a range of industries. Follow him on twitter and on LinkedIn.

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Photo: Old map by Enrique Flouret

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