How communications can improve employee alignment with business strategy

The Cascade is Broken

Strategy execution is critical to company success, yet few companies get it right.

A recent poll of senior executives shows that 61% believe that their company struggles to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and day-to-day implementation.

Communicators have tackled this challenge by trying to help employees understand and connect to strategy. That makes sense: increasing employee understanding of strategic goals, and how their work connects to them, does lead to positive organizational outcomes.

Unfortunately, their primary tool for building understanding – the strategy cascade – is broken. Despite communicators’ efforts to arm managers with support tools like business strategy presentations, FAQ documents, and even dialogue training, managers aren’t cascading messages. As a result, only 1 in 3 frontline workers have high levels of strategy understanding. Our research shows, however, that although managers are important, they are not the biggest factor.

3 Key Findings

1. Many employees have built their own understanding and connection to business strategy without manager help.

business strategy manager support

You might think that the employees who understand strategy are those whose managers effectively cascade strategic messages. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Nearly half (44%) of employees with high levels of strategy understanding say that their managers do not help them connect strategy with their daily work.

2. Employees’ “self-direction” is a bigger driver of their strategy understanding than managers’ contextualization.

business strategy self direction

Managers are certainly one important factor in helping employees understand strategy and its connection to their work, but they are not the biggest factor. The number one driver of strategy understanding is employees’ “self-direction.”

Highly “self-directed” employees actively interact with strategy to build their own connection to their work. They seek out strategic information, stay up to date with market news, and think critically about how their work affects others. Simply put, these employees are eager to learn strategy regardless of whether their manager is supportive or actively involved.

3. Roughly 40% of employees are highly self-directed.

business strategy two ways to win

Your organization has a fairly even mix of self-directed employees (i.e., those who actively interact with strategy) and non-self-directed employees (i.e., those who passively wait to receive strategy information and contextualization from senior staff). Hence, Communications must create strategy messaging that enables both groups’ strategic understanding.

Communications’ Call to Action

For the 60% of employees who are naturally passive (i.e., non-self-directed), Communications must alter strategy communication to prompt them to behave similarly to highly self-directed employees (i.e., actively interact with strategy).

For the 40% of employees who are naturally active (i.e., highly self-directed), Communications must provide them with the information and inputs they need to actively engage with strategy and build an understanding of goals and connection to work on their own.

You can find out more information at the CEB Communications website and in the CEB Comms Newletter.