Help employees connect strategy with their daily activities
A vital role for communicators is to tell all stakeholders, especially staff, about the decisions and the planned outcomes from the strategic planning process. Key messages need to be passed on consistently and effectively throughout the organization in a tailored way, not as mass-communication, head-office gloss or propaganda.
Link the ‘big picture’ with the ‘little picture’ for employees
The messages should link the ‘big picture’ with the ‘little picture’ so that staff can see how their individual efforts can make a difference to the end result. Research shows that organizations are more effective when their employees know the direction in which the organization is heading and their own personal role in helping the organization achieve its goals and mission. This is also called ‘line of sight.’
The time of most managers is largely spent in dealing with the local, short-term issues. The focus of the managers is on their daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly needs as they deal with employees, customers and other stakeholders. Short-term thinking is fine as long as it directly supports long-term, strategic thinking. This point may seem to be basic, but the translation of strategy into short-term measurable objectives is often incomplete or faulty.
Managers need help to translate strategy into daily meaning for employees
Managers usually need assistance in breaking down the key issues, elements and needs of the business strategy into tactical, short-term operating objectives and action plans. This translation process is an integral and vital part of the execution of strategy.
Ask the managers what they intend to say to the staff about strategic direction. Ideally, the CEO would have already led the way with a summary presentation of the corporate plan. The aim is to translate how the strategy becomes fulfilled through completion of daily tasks.
Making the connection between the daily workplace and corporate strategy is easier said than done, but with a little thought, the tasks of even a personal assistant, coordinator or cost clerk can be linked to goals. By reviewing their job description or getting them to list their activities, their manager can link their tasks to measurable work objectives supporting the various goals at the departmental, divisional and organizational level.
How to find out if staff know if their work supports business strategies
One way of checking if managers have communicated the short-term objectives sufficiently is to ask their staff two questions:
- “What activities and objectives do you routinely work to in your department [unit, branch]?”
- “What business strategy do these activities and objectives support?”
The answers will quickly show the extent to which the respective manager is succeeding in their strategic role.
Explain or delete management jargon
Senior managers tend to use acronyms and management jargon in the strategic planning process as well as in their daily workplace. As they are surrounded by other senior managers, they take for granted that everyone else is familiar with their terminology. This is seldom the case, especially with frontline staff. Therefore it is important to define terms when using them in communication or not use them at all. Even common terms like ‘mission’, ‘values’, ‘culture’ and ‘strategy’ are widely misunderstood by lower-level employees.
Find out understanding of frontline workers
To be effective, work back from the frontline level. The best way to check about employee understanding of important terms is to ask them about the acronyms and jargon words used in their workplace. Ask a sample of frontline staff individually in each workplace what is meant by terms such as ‘mission,’ ‘goals’ and ‘KPIs.’ etc. Sit in on their team meetings and listen for jargon. Become a jargon detector!
Make a note of the acronyms and jargon words used in the discussion about strategic direction and get the manager to explain the terms in subsequent team meetings. Staff would probably be reluctant to admit in front of others that they don’t know, especially if their boss uses the words every day. They wouldn’t want to look dumb in front of their peers.
In addition to verbal clarification, if there is widespread misunderstanding about certain terms, the communication team could explain them progressively in the corporate newsletter or even in briefing material. This can be done quite subtly in passing.
Communicators should be catalysts for better communication
Operational managers should be responsible for communicating with their own staff rather than PR practitioners trying to communicate on their behalf. Why should PR staff do the communicating when these line managers are responsible for all other matters at the local level?
The idea is for PR staff to be catalysts or enablers – to equip local managers and supervisors with the right tools to enable them to communicate effectively with their own staff.