“The vision statement of any company should be tied to realistic goals for employees. By framing your vision in this manner, you are turning the company vision into an integral part of the daily experience.” – Hannah Son
A survey of more than 400 global CEOs found that executional excellence is the number one challenge facing corporate leaders today.
The Greatness Gap: The State of Employee Disengagement reports that the majority – more than 60% – of the 397 non-executive employees surveyed said they didn’t know their company’s mission, vision or values (the Corporate DNA of the business).
The same portion of people is not familiar with the business strategy either, which makes sense, as the Corporate DNA is intrinsically linked to the business strategy.
More than half of employees surveyed said they do not feel connected with the overall purpose of the business.
As a result, 56% of respondents confessed that they don’t like the company culture. Not even half say that they are happy at work. Only 45% trust their company’s leadership.
Due to this disconnect, executives say, businesses lose 40% of their strategy’s potential value to breakdowns in execution.
The unfortunate fact is that leadership is failing to align employees’ outputs with the organisational strategy. It’s a staggering finding, illustrating a tremendous disconnect that leaders need to address urgently.
Avoid ‘Death by Documentation’ and ‘Demise By Jargon’
Bridget Miller, a business consultant with a specialised MBA in International Economics and Management, says that too many buzzwords get thrown around in business today. She says that employees and leaders alike are confused by the difference between their company’s vision, mission, and strategy. That leadership is killing employee spirit with an overdose of documentation.
To counteract the confusion, she recommends weeding out the unnecessary corporate jargon and using easy-to-understand language.
It also best to keep the strategy short and to-the-point to avoid, as Lecturer on Business Administration at the Harvard Business School Seymore Tills puts it, “the solemn recording of platitudes, useless for either the clarification of direction or the achievement of consensus.”
If the strategy is approached as a highly abstract concept, it’s almost impossible to be easily communicated or translated into action. Without a sense of where the company is heading, cascading levels in the company cannot put executable plans in place.
In short, the connection between strategy and performance can’t be drawn because the strategy is not sufficiently concrete. High-performing companies avoid long, drawn-out descriptions of lofty goals.
The best companies see strategy not as a paper exercise but more as a direction and agenda of decisions. “In effect,” business author Michael Mankins says, “a company’s strategy is the sum of decisions it effectively makes and executes over time.”
To deliver a successful strategy, leaders must make several tactical decisions and put them into action. But not all tactics are equally important, Mankins explains. In most instances, only a few critical measures must be implemented to meet planned performance.
Leading companies make these movements explicit so that each executive has a clear sense of where to direct his or her efforts.
In this light, HR Future recommends developing a One-Page Strategic Plan (TOPS) which outlines all the business’s initiatives and the alignment of its resources, such as time, people and budgets, to achieve high performance and results.
The TOPS then differentiates between the mission, vision. The mission answers the question: ‘Why do we exist?’ The vision answers the question: ‘What will the future look like as we fulfil our mission? What will be different?’ While the mission is about today, the vision is about the future.
Leaders need to align their team’s outputs with the organisations’ outlook and what it wants to achieve. As such, the corporate vision should be the main turbine of a team member’s objectives.
Excellent leaders remember two things when communicating organisation vision to their teams, say Kelly Decker and Ben Decker, leading experts in the field of Business Communication.
First, leaders must target their message according to each business unit’s needs. Leads are accountable for rendering the same vision into different messages, adapted for each team’s unique course of business.
Second, leaders need to boost logical reasoning with an emotional appeal to inspire. “That’s how you get buy-in,” says Ben Decker, “and how you shift the team’s response from ‘I must,’ to ‘I want to.’
When a business successfully aligns strategy with vision – and vision with teams’ outputs – the enterprise is a whole achieves higher levels of performance because all their contributions are focused on driving measurable objectives.
This strategic alignment means that all elements of a business are arranged to best support the fulfilment of its long-term purpose. Leaders need to make sense of strategic alignment at both divisional level as well as enterprise level.
The strategic alignment gap
But it’s a task that is easier said than done. A research team at RHR International says the strategy-to-execution gap is an enduring problem with no easy solution.
According to a BetterWorks-sponsored Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, 70% of employees say that alignment is the greatest obstacle to executing on the company strategy.
The lack of connection between strategic priorities and tactical actions is a significant negative factor in achieving executional excellence. Mankins cautions that a continues strategy-to-performance gap fosters a culture of underperformance.
The strategic alignment gap results in poor priority management, insufficient focus and ambiguous outcomes at every level in the company hierarchy.
Aligned goal-setting allows team members across all business units to make decisions with the long and short-term target in mind, and to achieve tangible results. Leaders should help participants to set up their own goals within the company framework, says Justin Lurie, an expert contributor to Houston Business Journal.
When each team member set their own, personal goals, they are stimulating, satisfactory and rewarding to the company as well as the team member. Lurie says that personal goals are often the most “immediate and effective regulators of self-action when clearly articulated and defined.”
How high-performing leaders and Elite Teams bridge the strategic alignment gap
In their critical HBR piece, Paul Leinwand, Cesare Mainardi, and Art Kleiner sketched what senior leaders must do to close the strategy-to-execution gap.
The research team at RHR International built on this investigation by going beyond the lens of the individual leader to investigate how the most successful teams bridge the gap.
Below is a summary of their key findings. Compared to low-performing teams, high-performing (or Elite) teams and their leaders:
- Spend nearly 20% more time defining strategy (i.e., translating a high-level vision into clear and actionable goals).
- Spend 12% more time aligning the company around that strategy through frequent internal communications and driving a consistent message downward into the unit.
- Spend over 25% more time establishing financial and operational metrics, aligning goals with overarching strategy, allocating resources, and reviewing key metrics.
- Spend 14% more time on checking their progress against strategic goals by reviewing key metrics and shifting resources accordingly.
- Spend 54% more time first setting direction, crafting a vision that serves as a guiding light for decisions regarding resources.
The Elite Teams spend 13.2% more time planning for the future by setting direction, creating a vision, and defining their strategy. When it comes to execution, lower-performing teams spend an astounding 83% more time fire-fighting and dealing with issues at a tactical rather than strategic level.
Achievers, 2015. The greatness gap: The state of employee disengagement. Retrieved from https://3enw232wev6r2iiyl51giig3-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Greatness-report-FINAL1.pdf
Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes & Charles Sull, 2015. Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it
Glenn Smith, 2015. Mission vs. Vision: What’s the Difference? Retrieved from https://www.glennsmithcoaching.com/mission-vs-vision-whats-difference/
Johnathan Trevor, 2018. Is Anyone In Your Company Paying Attention to Strategic Alignment? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/01/is-anyone-in-your-company-paying-attention-to-strategic-alignment
Jonathan Trevor & Barry Varcoe, 2017. How Aligned Is Your Organisation? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/02/how-aligned-is-your-organization
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Justin Lurie, 2014. 5 Methods to align company and personal goals. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com/houston/blog/2014/12/5-methods-to-align-company-and-personal-goals.html
Kelly Decker & Ben Decker, 2016. Communicating a Corporate Vision to Your Team. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/07/communicating-a-corporate-vision-to-your-team#
Paul Leinwand, 2016. Closing the Strategy-Execution Gap. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/podcast/2016/02/closing-the-strategy-execution-gap.html
Michael Mankins, 2017. 5 Ways the Best Companies Close the Strategy-Execution Gap. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/11/5-ways-the-best-companies-close-the-strategy-execution-gap
Michael Mankins & Richard Steele, 2005. Turning Great Strategy into Great Performance. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2005/07/turning-great-strategy-into-great-performance
Nathan Wiita & Orla Leonard, 2017. How the Most Successful Teams Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/11/how-the-most-successful-teams-bridge-the-strategy-execution-gap
Zorian Rotenberg, 2018. Five best practices for aligning employees with corporate goals. Retrieved from https://www.hrfuture.net/strategy/staff-planning/five-best-practices-for-aligning-employees-with-corporate-goals/