Robots take orders. Give them an instruction, and they will complete incredibly complex tasks without hesitation. They will give the same level of effort and consistently deliver the same result time and time again. People however, are different. They need to know why. Why are we heading in this direction? And, why are we going about it this way?
Why does providing a compelling why help close the gap between strategy and implementation? There are 3 main reasons.
It helps people connect-the-dots and make sense of what's going on - If people understand why they are being asked to do something, they can make connections between what they are doing and how they are contributing to the outcome. This provides a sense of purpose and energy and explains why it is worth putting in the effort. If people don’t understand ‘why', it is not clear what will happen if they work harder or conversely, if they stop. A strategic transformation can be a long, difficult journey. People need to believe it's going to be worth the effort.
It empowers people so they can meaningfully contribute - Understanding whyenables members of the team to fully contribute, not just labour, but ideas, options and solutions. If they’ve only been given the answer, they are left guessing what the drivers were and thus, are limited in their ability to contribute. In these cases, both the team member and the organisation miss out.
It enables the plan to 'flex' - When delivery doesn’t go according to plan (as is usually the case) it is the team’s shared understanding of ‘why’ that enables the them to keep going until a new plan can be created. Having the fundamental understanding of whythe plan was created in the first place, and what problem or opportunity it aimed to address, empowers people to confidently improvise, knowing that they will be heading in the right directions.
So how do you know if you're using the right 'why'? The 'why' that sits behind your strategy will be sufficiently robust if it:
works on an emotional and a logical level – For leaders and teams to engage with and support a strategy, they need to understand how the strategy contributes to the broader purpose of the organisation, as well as the creation of stakeholder value.
is consistently applied – The ‘why’ needs to be applied throughout all layers of the strategy. There is no point saying a strategy aims to create more value for customers, when customer-value is put to one side during the implementation process.
is communicated in a relevant way – There can be a lot of ‘noise’ within complex organisations and for people to engage with the strategy, they need to hear the 'why' in a way that works for them. While the essence of the message never changes, the medium and the mode of communication needs to adapt to the circumstances.
Perhaps take a moment to reflect on your own strategy, regardless of whether it’s at a corporate, business unit or team level. How well does it address the three criteria above? And, what might this be telling you about it’s likely success?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kate Christiansen has spent 20 years adapting large organisations to strategic change. She partners with CEOs and their Executive Teams to develop the clarity, capability and confidence needed for superior adaptive performance. Kate is author of The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within. To discover more, visit www.thethrivecycle.com