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Strategy Ambassadors: The Key to Eliminating Strategy Execution Failure

Employee engagement and strategy execution failure – two stubborn challenges that countless organizations face but may not see as being connected. Big mistake.

Here’s something I’ve learned – there IS a connection and employee engagement and commitment is the secret sauce behind successful strategy execution. Let’s review the evidence.

I probably don’t need tell you that employee engagement levels continue to run at all-time lows. Recent statistics from the Canada Human Resources Centre (http://www.canadahrcentre.com/solutions/employee-engagement/) reveal something shocking – 60% of employees are not engaged with another 15% classified as actively disengaged! The impact of employee disengagement is a bottom line issue. For example, statistics show that unhappy workers cost the North American business economy well over $350 billion annually in lost productivity! However, the impact goes deeper.

A review of the recent literature on strategy execution sub-optimization and failure rates shows that it persists in the range of 75% to 95%! This means that the vast majority of organizations are having trouble putting their business strategy into action, producing sub-optimized financial results, stakeholder outcomes, and impact.

Many people tell me that they just can’t believe that strategy execution failure hasn’t improved over the past 25+ years. That the implementation of professional strategy management disciplines and tools such as Management by Objectives, the Balanced Scorecard, and, more recently, OKR’s, hasn’t made a significant dent in these results is unbelievable to many.

Why is this the case? Why hasn’t the proliferation of strategy management approaches turned the strategy execution failure statistics around? Based on my reading, experience, and observations, here’s what I think –

From the post-war era until the present time we have experienced a general upswing in both the introduction and use of recognized business/strategy management disciplines and tools in a range of organizations. However, over the same period, employee engagement levels have generally been tracking downward. While there may have been a non-linear progression, I believe that there has been an overall downward trend for some time. At some point in history these trend lines crossed (probably in the past 25 years) and the strategy execution failure rate hasn’t budged since then.

Of course, one wild card in all this has been the change in the nature of the marketplace – it has gone from local to global. While we can’t discount the pressures this has put on business success rates, I’m not convinced that we can blame strategy execution failure rates on globalization.

What I do believe is that strategy execution success requires BOTH the implementation of sound strategy management discipline and tools AND high levels of employee engagement. And I suspect that employee engagement levels are actually the more important element of the two.

So what if there was a simple solution that any organization could implement that would have an impact on both elements of this equation AND produce significant improvements in that organization’s strategy execution success rate?

That solution is Strategy Ambassadors.

Strategy Ambassadors are people from within your organization who understand your business strategy and are passionate about engaging their peers with it. This includes helping everyone: understand your strategy and see their role in putting it into action; become committed to taking an active and enthusiastic role in implementing your strategy in their department/team; and partner with leadership to improve the strategy and the results it achieves.

Strategy Ambassadors can be people from any level of your organization – managers and non-managers alike. They just need the training and empowerment necessary to communicate and discuss your organization’s strategy story with others and help your people make your strategy their own at the “local” level.

Leveraging Strategy Ambassadors within an organization helps strengthen the elements you need for strategy execution success in the following ways:

Strategy Ambassadors enable the implementation of strategy management discipline across your organization: A lack of employee understanding of your strategy is the first barrier to strategy execution success – Strategy Ambassadors assist with clearing away this impediment by communicating your strategy across your organization and helping employees understand it in a way that has personal meaning to them. Lack of organizational alignment is another barrier to successful strategy execution. Strategy Ambassadors help employees align their day to day work efforts with your strategic priorities. They do this by engaging employees in an active process of discussion, discovery, and commitment to aligned action. The final driver of strategy execution success is making strategy everyone’s job. By engaging employees in an ongoing two-way dialogue about strategy implementation, results, and improvement, Strategy Ambassadors help employees interact with your strategy in a high value way as part of their everyday contribution. Leveraging Strategy Ambassadors is an efficient and effective way for your organization to put elements that are critical for strategy execution success in place.

Strategy Ambassadors have a positive impact on employee engagement levels: A critical precursor for high levels of employee engagement is employee trust. A clear and believable organizational strategy paired with the strong, transparent, and consistent two-way communication of that strategy goes a long way to building high levels of trust with employees. This lays the groundwork for employee engagement, however, implementing the infrastructure required to enable employee interaction with, and collaboration on, your strategy is a necessary ingredient in making employee engagement a reality. Strategy Ambassadors play a critical role in building employee trust levels on the ground and they are a pivotal part of the infrastructure that enables all employees to have a role and voice in your strategy.

 

While Strategy Ambassadors can have a critical impact on improving the chances of strategy execution success for your organization, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of leadership in this equation. In fact, visionary and collaborative leadership is an important critical success factor. Strong and committed leadership (1) creates a culture and environment that’s conducive for employee engagement and strategy execution success, and (2) empowers Strategy Ambassadors to take ownership for their role of inspiring employees to: internalize your organization’s strategy, invest in putting it into action, and make the achievement of desired results a personal mission that they can actually influence.

 

I have seen many organizations make Strategy Ambassadors a key part of their strategy execution success plan. The most successful organizations make this role the lynchpin of their success. In my experience, it’s the high levels of employee engagement this role enables that makes the difference and delivers the greatest impact.

Is your organization ready to experience the benefits achieved through Strategy Ambassadors? Start planning to introduce them today to see  your employee engagement and strategy execution results soar!

 

Frustrated with your organization’s level of strategy execution success and want to explore implementing Strategy Ambassadors? Let’s talk about how you can do it including your next steps. Contact me through the comments section below or at sandy@collaborativestrategy.ca

1 Comment

  1. Alfredo Rodriguez
    Feb 15, 2015

    Hi Sandy, Thank you for this great post! I could not agree more with you. There are a couple of things that came to mind and I would like to share in order to complement your post:

    a. The importance of an employee-oriented organization:

    If strategy execution is driven by employee engagement then we could infer that an organization not focused on the human capital would not probably achieve their goals. Based on my experience in strategic planning, I still believe that an employee-oriented organization will generate more sustainable results rather than a customer-oriented organization. I think that those organizations that do not incorporate people engagement as part of their business strategy simply do not understand their business. This point supports the reason why the Learning & Growth perspective (Balanced Scorecard) is clearly located at the bottom of the Strategic Map. My question is, how many Balanced Scorecard users really work hard on the L&G perspective?

    b. Engage the Strategy Ambassadors first:

    They are definitively influential in the organizations. In addition to your point about strategy ambassadors, I think that engaging them first (a very crucial challenge) is as important as making them deploy the business strategy at the “local” level. Since they are influential, they tend to have power, and depending on the organization culture, a non-engaged ambassador could be counter-productive in terms of strategy execution or even more, employee satisfaction. As you said, Leadership is absolutely significant during the entire process.

    Best!
    Alfredo