How to build and embed a business strategy that fuels growth through uncertain times

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Catrin Lewis spends most of her time designing engagement strategies for the workforce at PE-backed, HR Tech company, Reward Gateway. When a period of significant change lay ahead, she needed an approach to keep the team aligned, motivated and working towards the same goal. Here, she shares her method and why ‘hope’ didn’t cut it. 

I want to share a story with you. It’s one that contains advice I’d wish I’d known a long time ago because it’s helped me to shape our business and align our workforce to our future strategy.

We were growing. In value. In client numbers. In size.

  • How could I build an effective strategy to inspire and drive my team towards the same goals as the business?
  • Where should I begin in sharing the plans that lay ahead?
  • What would be the best way to present this to our teams?

I knew that successfully embedding our future strategy would be absolutely essential to the success of our growth plans. In previous years, I’d seen strategies delivered at an all-hands event and then forgotten about the week after. We needed something strong, something that would land with impact and something that would engage an entire workforce.

Writing your strategy

I needed help, so I turned to some of the best strategists in the world. Friends that I have in the Brazilian Navy Marines Corps, or Corpo de Fuzileiros Navais as they are known. 

The Captain spent four years in the Amazon. He’s a jungle combat specialist and shared that he found the greatest strategic strength was to focus on the individual strengths of your team. Let them specialise in an area. You can do it all, but you cannot master it all. 

I found this advice so relevant, especially for start-up businesses and those on the brink of expansion. It could be so easy to keep costs low by having individual employees responsible for far wider remits than the job design should ideally allow for. I speak to HR Managers running Internal Comms and Recruitment and Learning and Development and Office Management, and you wonder, how on earth can they manage it all? I see Client Account Managers owning Implementation, Client Relations, Client Support, Contract Renewal, Technical Support. You have to think, how can they focus and retain all this information to deliver excellent results in any one area? Is it really fair to hope that they’ll keep all these plates spinning?

The Officer, whose role is tactical and spends the majority of his time in helicopters and diving, shared this, it’s so simple but so true – “Hope is not a strategy”, and he’s not the only strategist to say this. Dr Akande said the same thing in a letter to Obama following his acceptance speech on the evening of 4th November 2008, where Obama said, “while we breathe, we hope.” This message was powerful. The country was falling apart. But, as a new leader of the population, facing a hugely challenging landscape and needing to get an entire country behind him, hope was not going to cut it.

Hope will not stop a recession.

Hope will not create jobs.

Hope will not prevent catastrophic bank failures.

That letter made it clear.

Hope is not a strategy, and it is not a tactic that you should be relying on in the uncertain times we face. 

The same rules apply to your employees. They need more than hope from you. They need to be provided with a solid, written strategy that they can refer to and reference when making their own decisions for the business. They need a place where they can align themselves and know they are on the right path. You cannot be in every meeting to make sure decisions are right, but you can provide the insight and guidance to ensure your teams are making the same decisions you would if you were there. 

Once our Leadership team understood that it was clear guidance and direction that was needed, rather than pure positivity and promise of a better future, we could create goals for the business that every team could align to. 

Communicating your strategy

With the strategy created, now came the time to get creative and think about how to best embed and share it. The goal was for the strategy to become part of our daily narrative within the business and not a document that would soon be forgotten about when the next big news item came along. 

There’s a variety of ways you can choose to do this. For me, the most effective methods are:

  1. All-hands meeting – Use an event like this to launch your new strategy and ensure you talk through it in detail with an open Q&A after the event.
  2. Regular CEO Updates – Continue to talk about it often and refer to the goals and progress in each of your updates.
  3. Recognition – Encourage your employees to recognise people in your business that are helping to reach the goals. Whether it’s an end of week shout out, employee of the week article or embracing technology such as eCards, this is a great way to make the strategy come alive and see that your teams are acting upon it.

Connecting your employees to your strategy

Having the strategy delivered and embedded at a company level has other benefits too. I often use our strategy to show my team the purpose, meaning and impact of the tasks and responsibilities they have to demonstrate how everyone plays their part in the business and has equal value in delivering on our goals.

It’s easy to link certain roles with company success. Sales and Service roles, for instance, can be directly linked to profit, growth and churn, which correlates easily with the financial reports at the end of the financial year. But what about the roles that are less easy to correlate? The roles that aren’t driven by KPIs or metrics? 

I work with an employee in my team who’s tasked with data entry. Something that could be deemed a tedious task but made meaningful by explaining in our 1-2-1 sessions by saying, “Can you see how this hits on helping us to achieve this strategic goal?”. A small nod to how an employee interacts with the business’ overall goals can go a long way in making the tasks more meaningful and empowering. 

Communicating strategic goals to the business effectively helped our business transition with minimum disruption through a period of significant change. The advice I’ve shared here helped shape our business and align our workforce to our future strategy. 

I hope it will help you too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catrin Lewis

Catrin Lewis

Catrin Lewis is Head of Internal Communications and Employee Engagement at Reward Gateway, the HR Tech business. She's a published author, regular conference speaker and spends time coaching employee communications professionals in a wide range of sectors. Catrin runs the Internal Communications & Employee Engagement Network for Tenzing, connecting HR professionals across the portfolio.