Monday, November 12, 2007

Aligning Employees with the Strategic Plan

By John Maver
Maver Management Group

How do you turn the vision from your strategic planning into a reality that really drives your business forward? It takes more than great strategy and implementation. Aligning everyone in your organization with your strategy is one of the most important things you can do. Alignment will make it much easier for you and your management team to lead the organization in the direction you intend. Without good alignment with the strategy, every bit of forward motion will be a struggle.

Without everybody embracing what we want to do, we haven’t got a chance. - Jack Welch - Ex CEO of GE

How do we get this alignment? Talk to your people. All of them! Involve them. Train them. Make them owners of the impact of the plans just like you are. That’s a start but there is more.

First, you have to have the right people at the top and in key positions. The key employees have to have the ability to think strategically and understand the necessity for strategic business plans. They must be capable of making decisions with strategic impact in order to be aligned with the company's strategy. This does not mean that every employee needs to be a great strategic thinker, but employees must be able to understand that their work fits into the success of the organization and how it fits in. People must understand enough of the basics of business that they can see how the strategy is going to make them better off through job security, promotions and pay increases in the future as well as making the company more successful.

Second, the company must have selected a strategic basis for the company’s plans. Good strategy requires focus. There are three basic ways to satisfy customers according to strategic gurus: 1) price, 2) quality or product superiority including a host of other value-adding features, and 3) service delivery, support, follow up, etc. In a strategically focused organization, the choice has been made as to what element will be dominant and all the activities must flow from that. Clearly there will be some of all three but one will be dominant. That means the people, plans, products and processes all are going to be based on this dominant factor.

Third, buy-in, getting people to buy into a strategy means, they must to believe in it. The strategy itself has to have some credibility with them. If you have an employee who thinks the strategy isn't good, you won't have alignment no matter what you do. If the strategy is wrong, change it. If the strategy is right and the employee won’t buy in, you will need to part ways. Even if an employee performs satisfactorily, not adhering to strategy will cause basic problems and conflicts which will hinder that person's growth and the growth of the company. It's easy to get people really excited about strategy if they participated in creating it. Also people may be very excited about your strategy if they understand and believe in the concepts involved. This is one of the reasons why the Maver Management Group pushes for involvement in the strategic planning process for as many people as is practical. We cascade the overall company’s plan down through the functions and work units to the individual.

Fourth, organizational structure can greatly help or hinder strategic alignment. Most companies are function dominated and this creates “silos”. The organization is very effective within a department or division, yet lacks efficiency and flexibility in activities which require cross-departmental cooperation. This effect works well if these "silos" have been created around areas which may become separate strategic business units, but may present obstacles to integrating an acquired company, or tackling organization-wide strategic change in areas like Finance, HR or IT, which typically require cross-functional teams to succeed. Some very successful organizations have taken this concept into account by creating "matrix" organizational structures particularly in the staff functions.

Fifth, your hiring and job structure plays a role. It's very important that the way you hire, train, compensate and retain the employees you have in key strategic areas works with your strategies. Where you are hiring smart expensive people – “A” players, you want to be sure you can use the skills of those people to drive your productivity up and costs down; otherwise all you're doing is driving your cost up. A major challenge that companies face is the tendency to use “A” people in places where they should use “Bs” or even “Cs” - or vice versa. This drives costs up, and the potential for added value is lost. In fact it erodes business growth potential. There is no question that matching employees and their jobs to strategy has a big payoff.

My experience is that companies that take these few simple steps to build alignment between their employees and their strategies find greater success. In helping the San Francisco Police Department create a process that brings them quality recruits and in sufficient numbers to meet their needs, we started from scratch and created a full plan that went beyond just recruiting. We did it with the help of police personnel at all levels from first level up through the Chief, Heather Fong. The result was a plan that was enthusiastically adopted by the organization. The recruiting program run by Commander Harper’s team is dramatically improved over where it was six months ago and the results are showing it.

Next step
Do you have a written Business Plan to actually align with employees?

If we can help you accelerate your business progress by working with you to create, implement and align the plan give us a call.

John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561

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