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The Real Reason Employees Don't Commit to Your Company's Strategy

By Mark Murphy

In an era where businesses seem to covet their seemingly successful ‘organizational agility’ and/or their ‘strategic pivoting’, it’s paradoxical that a significant disconnect persists between corporate strategies and employee commitment.

So why is this?

I would argue that while leaders meticulously craft strategies to navigate competitive waters and ensure future growth, a glaring oversight often undermines these efforts: the failure to adequately explain the rationale behind the strategy.

This omission isn’t just an oversight; it’s a critical fault line that can cause subsidence of the very foundation of employee engagement and commitment.

Understanding the ‘Why’: The keystone of strategy commitment

At the heart of this issue lies a fundamental question: Why should employees invest their efforts and believe in the strategy?

The trouble is, this question can’t be answered by just repeating the strategy a few more times.

Employees today seek deeper insights.

They want to understand why this particular strategy was chosen, how it was formulated, and what alternatives were considered and discarded.

But unfortunately, we know from a study on resistance to change that a measly 15% of employees always understand the rationale behind their organization’s strategy.

The process of strategic development: It’s a journey, not a decree

Leaders often embark on a thoughtful, data-driven process to develop strategy. Often it involves market analysis, competitive intelligence, and future forecasting.

However, the intricate details of this journey seldom reach employees in its entirety.

Sharing this behind-the-scenes look can be transformative, because it allows employees to grasp the complexities and nuances of strategic decisions.

It also demystifies the strategy, transforming it from a high-level decree to a well-considered plan rooted in concrete analysis and foresight.

Another overlooked aspect of strategy communication is the sequence in which it’s disseminated.

Before launching a broad communication to all staff, it’s critical that executives first align with middle management.

These managers act as the vital link to frontline employees, interpreting and contextualizing the strategy for them.

Without a deep understanding of the strategy’s rationale, managers can’t effectively champion it, potentially leading to resistance or indifference. And this is a scenario where the strategy is acknowledged but not actively supported or implemented.

Addressing the skepticism: Transparency as a trust builder

Skepticism towards new strategies often stems from a lack of transparency about the decision-making process in the first place.

When leaders openly discuss the rationale, acknowledging the risks and trade-offs, it builds credibility and trust.

Transparency demonstrates that the strategy is not an arbitrary choice but a well-reasoned decision.

To genuinely gauge employees’ commitment to the organization’s strategy, leaders have to look beyond superficial affirmations and coerced head nods.

Survey your staff – but ask the right questions

This is where a well-structured conversation or survey becomes invaluable.

A recent Leadership IQ report identified two survey questions critical for assessing employees’ commitment to the strategy:

  • “I understand the rationale behind this organization’s strategy”

  • “I think ABC’s strategy will make the organization more successful”

The first question addresses the core issue of comprehension.

It doesn’t just assess the extent to which employees are aware of the strategy, but it probes deeper to ascertain whether they truly grasp the underlying reasons and motivations of a strategy.

Understanding the rationale is the first critical step toward meaningful engagement and commitment.

Without it, employees might comply with strategic initiatives out of obligation rather than genuine agreement or enthusiasm.

The second question shifts the focus from understanding to belief in the strategy’s effectiveness.

It’s one thing for employees to comprehend the strategy and another to believe in its potential to enhance organizational success.

Belief though, is pivotal. It’s the driving force that motivates employees to invest their best efforts and align their individual goals with the strategic direction of the company.

Together, these questions serve as a barometer for strategic commitment, assessing how well the strategy is understood and embraced across the organization.

The responses can highlight areas where additional communication or clarification is needed, identify segments of the workforce that may require further engagement, and ultimately guide leadership actions to foster a deeper, more pervasive commitment to the company’s strategic path.


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