By Nils Reisen on 03.04.2023 | 7 minutes reading time
Anchoring a corporate strategy is a demanding task. How can you ensure that the strategy is not only understood by as many people in the company as possible, but also implemented in their daily work?
In our own work, we have identified three elements that are needed to successfully anchor corporate strategy. In this article, you will learn what these are and what role elephants play.
Defining strategy is demanding; anchoring strategy even more so
Developing an effective corporate strategy is not easy – with or without the support of external professionals and PowerPoint creators. But when the strategy is in place, one looks forward with hope. The path to a successful future is paved.
Then you realise: developing the strategy was only half the battle. Although you have communicated quite thoroughly, involved management and staff and formulated KPIs, the new strategy and its core elements are unknown to many people. And if you look closely, very little has actually changed.
Why is that?
No matter how big the company, communicating complex issues is a challenging task. As a psychologist, I have always been interested in how people behave and what leads them to change their behaviour. How to achieve sustainable change is described by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath in their excellent book Switch. They use the metaphor of the elephant and its rider. The rider stands for the rational side, the elephant for the emotional side.
To achieve a change in behaviour, you have to address both sides. The rider with sound arguments and the elephant through feelings. In addition, it helps to design the path in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the elephant and the rider to follow. In other words, the work environment must be designed to make it as easy as possible for the people in the company to practise the new behaviour.
To anchor our strategy, we now need to:
- convince the rider rationally of the new strategy,
- make it possible for the elephant to experience the new possibilities emotionally, and
- design the path in such a way that the desired behaviour emerges almost by itself.
Rider and elephant are well served by careful communication. This helps to communicate strategic directions and priorities to the rider and to create a sense of urgency for the elephant.
The first step: Communicate on all levels
Comprehensive and well-coordinated communication is essential. This has the best chance of success if it takes place across all hierarchical levels and managers and staff are given clear responsibilities. In our experience, it is also helpful to use multiple channels such as emails, the intranet and events, as well as different formats such as text, videos and workshops. The necessary intensity is often underestimated and Aristotle already knew that more is often better: "Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you have just told them".
But: even with extremely good communication, many people are not reached at all or only marginally. And you can hardly shape the path only with communication.
In recent years, we have therefore given a lot of thought to what needs to come after communication in order to anchor strategy and change in the company. Three elements have emerged.
Three basic elements: understand, integrate, verify
1) Understand: What are the goal and core elements of the strategy?
Only when you know the aims and elements of a strategy can you do things that count towards achieving it. To really understand something, you have to actively think about it. With classic communication, which is primarily passive sound bites, only a fraction of employees will be able to think further and answer the following questions:
- What is the aim of the strategy?
- How will it help us to be (more) successful?
The more people in the company who understand the strategy, the better. At one of my previous employers, the strategy was at times unclear to many, right up to senior management. As a result, many people came up with their own strategy and then aligned their actions with it.
This observation also shows that employees at all levels are interested in the strategy and need it as a guideline for their actions. Therefore, as we have described elsewhere , it is good and important to actively involve employees in shaping strategy and change in general.
2) Integrate: What do we have to change now?
If the majority of employees can answer these questions, the foundation has been created. Now the topic has to be integrated into their own work context, for example by having everyone in the company deal with the following further questions:
- What does the strategy mean for me and my work?
- What do I have to do differently now?
- What do we have to do differently in the team
Only when these questions can be answered a behavioural change on an individual- and team- level is possible. But like a rigorous mountain hike, the next peak looms right behind the one that has been climbed. Was the right thing done? Is it having an effect?
3) Check: Are our adjustments successful?
If everything is done in a new way, but nothing is done in a purposeful way, we’re not advancing. Blind actionism can do even do more harm than good. Therefore, it is important that employees and teams regularly ask themselves the following questions:
- Do my or our measures pay off in terms of the strategic goals?
- Are they having the desired effect?
If all these questions can be answered, you've made it. How can one now ensure that as many people as possible in the company regularly ask themselves these questions?
Regular reflection leads to success
In addition to the communication described above, regular reflection on the strategy and its implementation is needed. On an individual level, but above all in the team. In this way, teams can define how they can translate the strategy concretely into their daily work.
A simple way to not only reach a large proportion of employees on a regular basis, but also to engage them in reflection, is to conduct regular surveys on the key content of the strategy.
On the one hand, this helps to get feedback on progress in implementing the strategy, both at team-level and organisation-wide. On the other hand, these surveys – and especially the subsequent discussion of the results in the team – enable a joint examination of the strategy's goals as well as the team's own actions and decisions.
By the way, we came to this insight while dealing with another problem: why do employee surveys so rarely lead to real improvements. Our realisation at the time was that this can best be achieved if everyone in the company actively works with the results. That's why we developed Pulse Feedback, a survey method that helps teams, managers and employees to improve their collaboration and shape their working environment based on regular feedback.
If you combine this approach of regular measurement and reflection with a consistent goal-setting methodology such as Objectives & Key Results (OKRs), you can go even further. A good example is the Swiss marketing company localsearch.
localsearch consistently implements its own strategy by combining employee feedback and OKRs
localsearch is the leading marketing and advertising partner of Swiss SMEs. They have been using Pulse Feedback since 2018 to continuously measure the company's progress towards realising their vision. This allows the leadership to regularly check where the company currently stands. At the same time, the teams are asked several times a year to look at the vision and strategy and define their specific contribution to it.
localsearch also links Pulse Feedback to their OKRs. After the surveys, each team develops a goal (Objective) for the next three to four months and defines concrete results (Key Results) against which they can measure the achievement of the goal. You can find more information here.
The central elements for effectively anchoring the corporate strategy are comprehensive communication and ongoing reflection at all levels. This is the way to ensure that everyone in the company understands the strategy and its goals, aligns their own behaviour with it and can regularly check the impact of their measures. Totally doable, right?
If you would like to learn more about how you can use Pulse Feedback to anchor your strategy or how you can use OKRs in your organisation, please contact us..
Baldoni, J. (2012). Give a Great Speech: 3 Tips from Aristotle. inc.com
Heath, D. & Heath, C. (2011). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. Random House.