How to Make Your Strategy’s Message Stick

A website and announcement aren’t enough. Communicating strategic goals to staff means making its principles concrete and soliciting their input.

At effective associations, strategy is key: Boards, staff leaders, and other stakeholders put in a lot of time and effort setting the direction of an organization. Which is why it’s frustrating when, after all that effort, staff and members still say things like, “Why are we doing this?”

Part of the frustration stems from the fact that associations can be just as diligent about communicating the strategy as they are developing it. Internal and external websites are launched. All-hands meetings are convened. New slide decks are drawn up for the annual conference. But communicating strategy isn’t the same thing as communicating it well.

In a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, two London Business School scholars discuss a few of the reasons why that might be. The problem is acute: They point to one study that found that less than a third of organization staffers could pick their strategy out of a lineup, even when it was clearly communicated. Part of the issue, they note, is that strategies, as written, are often amorphous messages devoid of context. Leaders “cannot even begin to communicate all the implicit, often tacit knowledge that brought them to a particular decision, which means that they can never really explain their choices.”

It can be hard to articulate what your strategy is. So spend a little time explaining what it isn’t.

That can sometimes happen when strategy statements are so broad as to feel effectively meaningless: “We leverage future-focused insights to deliver equitable impacts to a variety of…” and so on. But even if the strategy isn’t a buzzword-thickened word-goulash, it can be hard to articulate what it is. So, the authors suggest, spend a little time explaining what it isn’t—share the strategic ideas that were rejected, or that the organization feels are outside its focus. Talking about a new credentialing structure will help explain why “professional” is in the strategy; explaining that “global” isn’t in the strategy makes clear that the association is courting domestic members.

In addition, the authors stress the importance of linking strategy to purpose. Association leaders should be able to clearly explain the why of a strategic statement—what element of the industry it intends to elevate, broaden, and generally support. That allows leaders to fill in the blank for every tactical move they make: “We’re doing this because_____.” We’re investing in AI because it identifies new classes of members for us to connect with. We’re expanding our mix of meetings to better serve the networking needs of more geographical regions; and so on.

Lastly, the writers suggest a no-brainer: Bring staff into strategic discussions. One reason why staffers are disengaged from strategy is that they effectively have no skin in the game—strategies are often top-down decisions made with little or none of their input. The authors point to one company where “employees proposing strategic initiatives must persuade at least two colleagues to form a team to implement initiatives.” It’s not hard to see how associations can bring in staff leaders or members to discuss strategic goals as they’re being designed. 

Because it’s big-picture stuff, strategy is always at risk of feeling like an abstraction. Leaders should recognize that simply pointing to its existence won’t automatically create buy-in. Success depends on ensuring that the people who have to implement your organization’s strategy feel invested in it.

The post How to Make Your Strategy’s Message Stick appeared first on Associations Now.