The data have been collected, the options analyzed, and the strategy developed. Now the question is, “How can you get your people engaged with the new strategy?”
No, it’s NOT by writing about it in the company newsletter, sending out an email to everyone, or putting notices on the bulletin board. Those aren’t going to do it.
Employee engagement takes involvement.
Engaging your employees after you’ve identified your strategic initiatives is too late. The decisions have been made. And the employees weren’t involved in the process. So, how can you get them engaged? Three ways. Think before, during, and after.
#1) BEFORE – Get their input
An anonymous, all-employee survey, or focus group sessions with key managers and employees are helpful first steps in soliciting input before you make any strategic decisions.
Ask your employees about your products and services, your customers and competitors, your company, your processes, your leadership. Get their perspective on the issues, opportunities, and challenges facing your organization. It doesn’t mean they’ll have all the answers but it does mean they’ll feel heard and that their opinions are valued.
#2) DURING – Get their feedback
After you’ve developed a draft strategic framework, it’s time to get your employees’ feedback.
Here’s what NOT to do: Don’t meet with them, share the draft strategic framework, and then ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” If you do, you’ll be met with a room full of blank stares and silence. Worse, is when you interpret that to mean that you’ve clearly communicated what you needed to communicate.
What really happened was two things. First, you didn’t create a safe environment for them to ask questions. How many people are willing to voice their opinion in front of a group when it means they could end up looking bad or looking dumb? Second, the meeting wasn’t structured in a way to entice them to provide feedback.
Here’s a better approach to employee engagement:
Bring all your employees together for a half-day meeting. Group them together at round tables. Let them know you’ll be sharing the draft strategic framework, and that the goal is to get their feedback, their ideas. Have your leadership team present different parts of the strategic framework. Then, give your employees a table exercise:
“What do you like about what you’ve heard? What concerns you? What questions do you have?”
Provide a flipchart at each table, and assign one person from each group to record the answers. Then, have someone from each table report out their highlights to the larger group. Have a round of applause for each group, thanking them for their input.
Now you’ve created a safe environment and an environment that promotes discussion. The message you’ve conveyed is that their input counts.
Your employee engagement strategy should be to get their honest input and feedback. Acknowledge their concerns (“That’s a valid concern. Let’s talk about what’s likely to happen.”). Reinforce their openness (“I appreciate you bringing that up. It’s important we get your candid input.”). Thank them for their courage if they bring up sensitive issues (“I want to acknowledge your courage in bringing up a sensitive issue like that. It doesn’t help us if we sweep that under the rug.”).
When you acknowledge their perspectives, reinforce their openness, and thank them for their courage, the message you send is one of respect. You value your employees, and their ideas count. Even if you disagree with them.
Make sure to collect all the employees’ ideas and then review them later with your Strategic Leadership Team. Be open to modifying your strategic framework based on those ideas. If you do, give the employees credit for it. Acknowledge their role in shaping your company strategy. To be clear, “having a voice” isn’t the same thing as “having a vote” or “getting to decide.” Ultimately, that’s the role of management. Yet management can make better decisions if employees’ ideas are taken into account.
#3) AFTER – Get them involved
Now that you’ve solidified the what and the why of your company strategy, your employee engagement strategy shifts to having them help you with the how. When people are involved in creating the how, they have much more buy-in than if you push the how on them. Better still, can you also have them involved in executing the how as members of strategy teams or as periodic contributors? If you can, then it gives you another opportunity to recognize them when those teams are successful.
So, how do you get your employees engaged with your company strategy? Involvement. Before. During. After.
Get their input at the front end of the strategic process. Get their feedback as you’re solidifying your strategic framework. Then get them involved in creating and executing the how-to.
Take 2 minutes. Think of how you can do a better job of engaging your employees with the company strategy. Then, record one thing you WILL do to start to make it happen.
Make it happen.