Communicating Your Strategic Plan with Employees
By Robert W. Bradford

It's critically important that employees understand your strategy. Employees who understand your strategy will be able to make better day-to-day decisions that will support your vision. But, while most of us understand this — at least intellectually — we often have difficulty effectively communicating our strategies to people outside of the strategic planning team. This may be especially difficult if you feel that parts of your strategy are sensitive and should not be shared with people outside of your management team. In addition, it may be undesirable to load employees with the task of thoroughly understanding all of your strategic planning documents when many employees only touch on one small operational area. How can we reconcile these difficulties?

First, you should probably have a separate vehicle for communicating your strategy. Handing out photocopies of your strategic planning binder will not achieve the effect you desire. Definitely prepare a separate document for communicating your strategy to employees. Secondly, you want to use something short and to-the-point, since many employees won't want to spend a lot of time reading about your vision. Our clients have found that a one-sheet summary combined with a short (15-30 minute) informational meeting with managers is most effective vehicle for communicating the outcome of your strategic planning meetings. Thirdly, you should "sanitize" your communication document. This isn't as hard as it sounds — you simply need to look at everything you might share with employees and ask "will it hurt us if other people know this?" A very good example of something that's unlikely to hurt you is sharing your view of your company's strategic competencies — if they are real.

Here are a few additional tips that will help you communicate your strategy more effectively:

  1. Use a few defined categories: You will lose a little detail by having five market segments rather than ten. What you will gain is a framework that your employees can and will remember — which means they are more likely to use it in their day-to-day thinking, as well.

  2. Say what you don't do: Don't give a lengthy list of good intentions. Instead of defining strategy in terms of the obvious, cut to the chase and let your people know the things your company isn't going to do. It may be harder to come up with, but it will give a much clearer sense of your strategy, faster. Many companies use the "good intention laundry list" to avoid admitting that they haven't made any real decisions — and their employees know it. It's a very good idea to let your people know your strategic focus in clear, unambiguous language.

  3. Make the difference between you and your competitors clear: If your strategy doesn't set you apart from the competition, it won't work — so make sure your employees understand how they can help put some teeth into your differentiation. This is especially important for your people in sales.

  4. Limit yourself: Don't try to list everything you can do or should do — define your strategy in terms of a simple vision with a limited number of objectives. Companies that set themselves more than 10 objectives tend to do far worse on implementation.

  5. Make objectives concrete and measurable: Vague objectives may make your management team comfortable by giving them "wiggle room", but concrete, measurable objectives with deadline dates are better for quickly clarifying the results you are seeking as well as who is accountable. If you have difficulty with this, try to identify a measurable objective that is close to the half-way point.

In our experience, companies that share their strategy with their employees get far greater alignment with their vision. This makes implementation much easier, and helps to give your vision a life of its own. If you want to get all of your employees — and not just your planning team — helping to move your vision forward, try communicating your strategy with them this week!

Robert Bradford is President of Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.
He can be reached via e-mail at

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