Communicating your strategy: top tips for effective planning

Gary Cookson explains why every business –big and small – should have a business strategy and offers top tips on how to communicate it effectively to the rest of the workforce. 

In smaller businesses, strategy is a difficult concept to grasp. Most business leaders possess a fluid concept of what their strategy may look like, but this is held mostly in their head and usually only a very small number of people have contributed to it. 

Strategy is often mixed up with day-to-day operations, which is why it’s frequently overlooked. But communicating where the business is going – and more importantly, why it’s going there – is vital for a whole host of reasons. 

I often talk about the concept of ‘The Amazing Workplace’ and in this concept I explain that a truly amazing workplace knows why it exists, where it’s going, and what it's going to do once it reaches its destination. If you’re running a small business, you should be communicating your business strategy as much as possible. It’s important to consider how your business is going to reach its end goal and identify how long it’s going to take. 

Understand the team players that will help you meet your business objectives and ensure you’re communicating your ideas and encouraging input across the board. Ensure your employees are talking to each other and their managers, and that their own goals align with the business’ objectives. Once you’ve created a solid strategic narrative, you’ll regain a sense of purpose and direction, which should, in theory, trickle down to the rest of the workforce. 

So, we are clear that communicating your strategy helps the organisation, but how best to do it?

Here’s my 7 tips, in no particular order:

1. Involve people from the start. If you can encourage people to contribute to the organisational strategy when it’s being developed, and make it a genuine two-way communication, you’ll get greater engagement and exposure to a far wider range of ideas. 

2. Map your stakeholders. Not just when crafting the strategy so that you know how to involve them, but when communicating the strategy so that you know how to inform them. Different types of stakeholders, depending on their level of power and interest, will need different methods, styles and frequencies of communication - knowing this in advance will be a big help. 

3. Start with why. This is something I encourage all leaders to do when instigating change, and it’s the same when shaping and communicating strategy. Employees need to understand WHY the organisation exists, WHY it does what it does, WHY they’re important and WHY it’s heading in a certain direction. Starting with the WHY, before you get to the WHAT, WHEN, WHO, WHERE and HOW, ensures employees are emotionally engaged with the strategy. 

4. Use a broad range of mediums and methods to communicate the strategy. Everyone has different preferences so use what’s at your disposal. It really is impossible to over-communicate when talking organisational strategy. Don’t be put off by thinking you’ve said something already on a different platform - each platform may offer you a slightly different tone and use of language. 

5. Get and use feedback. Use all available channels to get feedback on your strategy, at all its various stages. The first iteration of your strategy is unlikely to be the final one, so don’t present it or expect it to be received as such. Your strategy needs to be adaptable and agile, so if feedback suggests the need for change, then make the necessary changes, and get feedback on the changes straight away. 

6. Make it visible. Strategy shouldn’t be confined to your desk drawer or folders on your device. It should drive everything the company does and it should be visible and embedded everywhere. On walls, doors, in meeting rooms, places where employees and customers meet, and referred to in regular conversations - not just an annual performance review discussion.

7. Don’t stop. Once you’ve communicated your strategy, it’s tempting to think that’s it. It’s not. You don’t get a badge to say it’s over and you’ve won. Employees forget, move on, new ones join, new customer and supplier relationships are forged. Basically the world moves on and what you did to communicate the strategy last week is so last week and you need to do it again, in a different way, this week. Think about how you communicate it through your behaviours and actions as much as your words, and notice when others do the same. 

I hope you’ve found these tips useful. There’s plenty more you can do, and of course strategy is too complex to distil into a short blog, but if you want more support on this, just ask!

Author: Gary Cookson (a father of four, husband and CIPD Chartered Fellow) runs his own business called EPIC, which helps people and places to Evolve, Perform, Improve and Compete.

Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you to address some of the issues covered in this blog:

  • Team building: learn how to develop your team to ensure ongoing high performance
  • Learning and development: find out how to plan learning and development opportunities to improve your employees' capabilities, skills and competencies
  • Performance management: learn how to improve and develop your employees' performance and how to align their goals with your business objectives