As a business owner, you have certainly felt the need to change your strategy. The change can be gradual or sudden; it can be subtle or substantial. In my experience, change usually leans more towards the sudden and the substantial. In a small or medium-sized business, results are often felt quickly throughout the organization, and employees must align with the change for it to happen successfully. In most cases, the change is not happening as quickly as we would like. Often this is because employees don’t know exactly what, why, and how.
As a leader, you naturally understand what the new strategy is, why the strategy is changing, and how it will change. The problem is, other people don’t understand these basic questions. This is why strategic change often takes longer than leaders would like. The good news is that there are many ways to accelerate strategic change within your organization, including effective, enforceable, and experiential employee development.
In an article published in the Harvard business review Titled “A Simple Way to Test Your Business’ Strategic Alignment,” the author suggests that employees must have the skills to beat the competition in order to execute a strategy. Before you can proceed, however, the fundamentals must be in place: a simple understanding of the what, why, and how. Employees may have the skills and knowledge to outperform the competition, but if they don’t understand the fundamental reasons for change, the skills will be of no use.
Here are four steps you can take to ensure the success of your strategy:
Step 1: Make sure the leadership team is in perfect strategic alignment. It is crucial that all direct reports from the President or CEO speak the same language and send the same message. All executive managers must be aligned behind the same strategy. If the leaders are not heading in the same direction, alignment cannot be achieved. The result will be different departments going in different directions.
Step 2: Engage human resources and training and development departments early on. Ultimately, we are talking about human capital management. I’ve observed that sometimes HR departments get criticized, but I don’t think that’s a positive mindset, and that mindset will only slow down your strategic change. Make sure HR managers understand strategic change and its impact on employees. HR managers have the ability to grease the wheels to make sure employees are able to change faster. Additionally, HR can work closely with business leaders to ensure the right talent is in the right place early in the process.
Step 3: Create a practical, applicable, strategic and aligned training. This is perhaps the hardest and longest stage. The trick is to start this process early (which is why step # 2 is important). This training cannot be just a set of slides with a few basic exercises. You must create a training that is 100% experiential, strategic and applicable. Pay special attention to business acumen and alignment of training with company strategy. You try to give managers a day in the life of a CEO. This will help managers learn the what, the why and the how naturally. Once they understand the issues organically, change will come easily.
Due to the complexity of this step, let’s take a closer look: Many training programs provide information in the hope that participants will: understand the content, understand why it is important, and what it means for strategic outcomes. This is where disconnections most often occur. By combining the tangible requirements of business strategy with a hands-on training experience where participants “drive the strategy” for a day, participants gain first-hand experience of why the strategy is changing and how it fits. in the new strategy while using the training curriculum of the department to bring it all together. This is where strategic change is accelerated.
To help you perform this complex dance, I have observed a few Fortune 500 companies have been using business training simulations like this for years. In the past, these solutions were out of reach for small businesses. Thanks to technological advances in platforms, the “little guy” now has access to development tools traditionally reserved for the world’s largest companies. (Full disclosure: I’m the president of a company that creates business training simulations.)
Step 4: Make sure you keep communicating and evaluating. I have seen executives skip this step too often. It is extremely important to continue to communicate strategy and progress, as well as to assess strategic understanding with the leadership team.
Changing your business strategy is complicated, and aligning the people behind it is challenging. Most executives say this is one of the three most difficult initiatives to achieve. Strategic change can be dramatically improved by ensuring that employees not only have the skills they need, but have experienced the what, why, and how of your strategic change.