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Think you have a great plan for this year? Good.

Unfortunately, what you think isn't what matters.

Senior management in any size of organization is tasked with a few critical responsibilities. They must define the vision and set the overarching goals for the organization, then devise a set of strategies that will support them, and finally break those down into a set of tactics – building blocks of activity with metrics attached, that will almost certainly add up to the achievement of those goals. Couldn’t be simpler. At least on paper.

Unfortunately, in most cases the biggest flaw in any plan does not lie in the plan itself. It lies in the execution of the plan by those who have to carry it out.
And all too often, that’s precisely the point where the plan falls apart and dies. 

Most CEOs take for granted that their employees agree with the organization’s strategic goals.  In fact, more often than not, frontline employees don’t understand their strategy, let alone agree with it.  And of course, if they neither understand nor agree with the organization’s strategy, how are they going to execute it?

Leadership IQ conducted a study recently asking thousands of employees if they could articulate their organization’s strategic goals.  The results were disturbing:

If you do the math, all told, this leaves roughly 17% of all employees who can clearly articulate their organization’s strategic goals. Obviously these are scary numbers for any senior leader.

Being able to articulate the goal is one thing. Understanding it, knowing what to do, and acting on it are quite another. As reported by Steven Covey in The 8th Habit, the universal #1 blockage to execution is unclear responsibility for actions and results:

How can your people execute strategy when most don’t know what it is? If ever there was a signal to CEOs that they needed to do a lot more work cascading their strategic vision to the frontlines in a meaningful way, this is it.

You can’t simply assume everybody “gets” your strategy.  You’ve got to test it: Do your employees know your strategy? Do they understand your strategy?
And just as important as knowing and understanding… do they agree with your strategy?

If you asked your employees a question like “I believe that senior leadership’s strategic vision will make this organization more successful,” it would not be unusual for you to learn that fewer than 40% of your employees even think your strategy is good for the company.

What’s that costing you, in terms of execution, lost sales, operating inefficiencies and brand erosion?

Too many business leaders take alignment for granted.  They say to themselves “I already told people about our strategy at the big meeting last month, so surely everyone is on board.”  But the truth is that it’s nearly impossible to over communicate your strategy.  You need to articulate it far more than you think is necessary, over and over again in different language, and then you also need to translate it into bite-size chunks that each individual employee can really understand and take ownership of.

Go out into your frontlines and test this for yourself.  Survey people, talk to them, and do focus groups, whatever.  And don’t get upset when you discover gaps in knowledge, understanding or support.  Be happy that you caught the issue before it got really serious and then use your newfound strategic alignment to great competitive advantage.

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