How to get employee engagement in R&D strategy

20 Jul 2010 Sandeep Mehta

Time and again, I have found that most employees do not understand or even know about the company strategy.  Corporate Executve Board has some good data in Get Your Frontline Onboard: Communicate, Clarify and Cascade CEB Views – Finance and Strategy:

A surprising number of employees don’t know what their company’s strategy is. A study by the International Association of Business Communicators found that only one in three companies say their employees understand and live the strategy. Robert Kaplan and David Norton, the founders of the Balanced Scorecard, found the situation to be worse. They found only 5% of employees understand company strategy. Without understanding, execution is impossible. Therefore, communication is critical, not only to promote understanding but to help employees appreciate how the strategy relates to what they do.

Of the three Cs, communicate and clarify have been discussed pretty thoroughly.  I want to reemphasize Cascade.  That is the crucial, and pretty much the most difficult portion of getting employee engagement.  Most front-line employees do not or can not figure out what they can do to help with company strategy.  Management needs to make the effort to actually help employees understand what behavior is expected of them.  Sending employees the strategy and asking them to follow it is not it.

A funny anecdote: The presidents of a company actually tried to enforce strategy buy-in.  The strategy was very generic (Reduce Costs and Increase Revenues).  At first, they communicated and celebrated the strategy and assumed everyone would follow it.  That did not happen.  Then the president set up mandatory meetings between mid-level managers and senior executives to get buy-in.  That did not work either because the mid-level managers did not know what they were supposed to do (nor did the senior executives).  These mandatory meetings became question answer sessions that generated no results.  The president than decreed that the mandatory meetings will only be about how mid-level managers would implement the strategy.  No questions will be answered.  That failed as well.  The strategy and the entire effort was then dropped.

I will leave you with the recommendations on CEB on cascade:

To help employees take ownership over their role in the execution, communications about strategy should always be accompanied by goals and metrics. These should be goals and objectives that employees can relate to and can be integrated with their daily tasks. Also, be sure to give them visibility into the goals that everyone up the line is trying to achieve as well so they understand how what they are doing contributes to the larger objectives. Ultimately, front line employees need to know:
What I need to do – goals and tasks
Why I need to do this – the value it provides the customer, the employee, the department and the organization
Don’t create too many goals. Prioritize to make it more manageable. If employees are overwhelmed by the scope of the strategy, or the number of goals they need to achieve, they are less like to perform well.

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