Should the Strategy be Communicated? How Much? To Whom?

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Should the Strategy be Communicated? How Much? To Whom?
Karl Christensen, Member
Communicating strategy involves much more than talk. There are numerous pitfalls or issues which must be resolved for the strategy to be effectively communicated. For example, in some instances executives argue with good reason that to fully communicate the organization´s strategy is to court (Editor: ~attract) disaster. Thus, one CEO has a five year strategy which, when it is fully implemented, will mean severe disruption to a major subsidiary. He does not want to rock the boat prematurely. An energy company thought it wiser not to publicize its strategy because it would become a sitting duck for regulatory agencies.
Such reservations have merit. Discretion may indeed be the better part of valor. Fully communicating strategy may not always be in the best interest of the organization, especially where that strategy is sensitive. Each situation has its own constraints, There is no one formula guiding how much strategy to communicate. However, where limitations are put on communications, those limitations must be carefully considered. They may not only handicap a manager´s ability to keep decisions consistent with the overall strategy, but they may erode commitment to the organization.
Regardless of where you are on the strategy-communications continuum, from significant discretion to full disclosure, critical issues about communication must be allowed to surface and be resolved. What should be communicated about the strategy and where and when should it be said? How much should be said and to whom? Stockholders? Middle Managers? Supervisors? Employees? Union Leaders? Customers? Government? What forms should the communication take? Who should do the communicating?
These questions seem relatively straightforward, but recall the situation mentioned earlier in which a corporate strategy meant severe disruption to a major subsidiary.

Strategy Communication
Erika Bellander, Member
I do not agree. I think the first issue is to HAVE a proper strategy. It should preferably consist of approx. 12 sentences talking about how to achieve your vision.
Then there is the work of breaking this down into business drivers, and plan for it. Do not mix the strategy with the breakdown and the subsequent following up with business plans etc.
The breakdown should be not that visible, only to those on the actual business level concerned and those who inherit the drivers. I do not mean that the strategy should be just open, but to the employees and stakeholders.
And, it should be ethically correct as well for various reasons. Also with a short strategy like this it might help you and your competitors to diversify from each other better.
Many people do the strategy too detailed, and this I think is not only a problem for openness but also for decentralization and entitlement and many other things.

The Strategy Should Be Communicated. The 4Ps of William Bridges
Roman Walley, Member
I disagree that you shouldn't communicate the strategy. I think that too many CEOs would use that as an excuse not to have to do that "messy stuff" of getting people involved and involving the affected stakeholders.
Here's an older book that is still relevant: Managing Transitions by William Bridges offers a great outline for communicating strategy.
These are Bridges' 4 Ps that leaders need to communicate for success:
1. PURPOSE. Describe why you are making the change. Explain the basic purpose behind the outcome you seek. People have to understand the logic of it before they turn their minds to work on it.
2. PICTURE. Describe what the future will look like. Paint a picture of how the outcome will look and feel. People need to experience it imaginatively before they can give their hearts to it.
3. PLAN. Describe the steps you need to take to get there. Lay out a step-by-step plan for phasing in the outcome. People need a clear idea of how they can get where they need to go.
4. PARTS. Describe the part you need the specific employee to play; specify your requests. Give each person a part to play in both the plan and the outcome itself. People need a tangible way to contribute and participate.
It is an excellent framework that I still use.

Prudence is Appropriate in Communicating Strategy
Patrick Mulvey, Member
Karl, your premise is correct, in that prudence is always appropriate. Even if not disruptive, there is no need to telegraph proprietary plans to competitors.
Nevertheless, a strategy that is never communicated, can not be implemented. Some elements can be encoded to specific audiences. For example a new innovation may be codenamed and all those involved in the project see the details, while others simple know it is a novel product development. No presentation needs to contain all the details of every strategic intent.
Simplicity of message is key, to be clear, concise, and compelling for the intended audience. Workers need different information than board members.
I have actually heard some companies joke that they wish their competitors had their strategy so that it could confuse them as much as it confuses themselves. After I helped them, they had a much different attitude.

Communicate the Strategy. No need for Secrecy
Ted Garrison, Member
@Patrick Mulvey: I agree, if you don't communicate the strategy how do expect to execute it? In fact, the best way to develop a strategy is with input from everyone on the team.
Vince Lombardi understood it - I don't care if the other teams knows what play we are going to run - we will run it better than they defend it so it will not matter. If your strategy is so weak you need to keep it a secret - then forget the strategy in the first place because it's not going to work.
As to what your competition is doing - if they have their head in the sand it doesn't matter. However, if they are sharp then it will not take them long to figure out what you are doing and begin to respond. Good strategies aren't implemented like a surprise attack - they must be implemented over time. If you attempt to change everything at once - you will probably fail.
The number one reason for failure is poor communication! So communicate the plan!

Communicating the Strategy yes. But Prudently!
Patrick Mulvey, Member
Let's be clear: prudence means prudence. I don't believe anyone is recommending a lack of prudence.
When Apple was developing the Macintosh, it kept its strategy secret from employees not working the project. Smart move. Same for the iPhone, iPad and everything else they are doing right now.
Does anyone in the general public know the strategy for Cisco, or Sony, or Amgen or Merck? Gee I wonder why not?
These companies all know that prudent communication down the chain is essential to effective implementation. But publicly blabbering about it via webcasts, or handouts is foolish.

The Focus of Communicating Strategy
Alan Kennedy
Maybe the point Mr Christensen is making is that agreeing on a strategy and communicating it are two very distinct issues. Communicating strategy requires an intimate understanding of the target audiences and how to deliver a message that achieves the desired response. Obviously, the degree of disclosure of the strategy could vary widely, depending on which stakeholder group is being targeted. As Madame Bellander and Messrs. Walley and Garrison note, internal management expected to implement the strategy must be privy to full disclosure of it, including all the supporting research and rationale. And as Mr. Mulvey points out, disclosure can be quite different for external stakeholders such as competitors and sometimes even for internal stakeholders, such as employees not involved in implementation.
The focus in communicating strategy is on getting the right message through to the right audience in order to achieve the desired reaction.
The focus in strategy development is just that: developing a winning strategy.

Strategy Should be Generally Broadcasted
Tom Wilson, Member
@Patrick Mulvey: As Lance Armstrong said: "our training is our strategy": we deal with contingencies as they arise on the road. So, I would say that the strategy should be generally broadcasted.
Now, the examples of Apple developing the iPad. The strategy of Apple is developing and marketing gadgets: the specific projects developing a gadget strikes me as an operational strata of the company, in which case both the prudence of Patrick Mulvey and the detailing of the task of Erika Bellander obtain, which is to say that business management is like a poker game, cover your cards. That doesn't change the need for a communicated strategy in the least so everyone knows what you are about. Ideally, you would bring the sacrificial subsidiary into the operational picture early as part of the 5 year strategy. That's why you have a strategy.

Communication of Strategy in an Organisation is not Necessarily a CEO Job
Makini, Member
Following the discussion above, one feels that the initiator has grounded his argument using Mintzberg's Design School. I would like to challenge ourselves to also look at the upper echelon theory and note that communication of the strategy can come from both the CEO or others, depending on the structure.

When to Communicate Strategy (Timing)
Y Srinivas rao, Member
In my opinion TIMING is the determining factor for all these questions.
Experience teaches us how to time communication, how much and with whom.
The strategy is solely dependent on the need base. Most politicians who are not statesmen have failed miserably (foot in mouth).
Like in war, a good strategy must be timed properly.

Generic and Specific Strategy Communication
Albin Xavier, Member
- Generic, basic tennets of the organization's strategy should be communicated to the entire organization.
- Specific aspects should be communicated based on the role of the individual, taking account of information sensitivity considerations.

Communicating Strategic Positioning (Sinek's Golden Circle)
Dennis van der Spoel, Member
You should discuss strategy with your own people. How else do you expect them to act accordingly? People are unable to make trade-offs if they are unaware of the intent of their leaders (whom they speak to only occasionally). See Stephen Bungay's book The Art of Action.
More importantly you should also discuss it with your clients. According to Simon Sinek, people don't buy WHAT you sell anymore, they buy WHY you sell it. They buy your vision.
@Tom Wilson: So in Sinek's opinion, Apple's strategy (WHY) is not making gadgets, it's challenging the status quo by thinking differently. HOW they challenge the status quo is by making products with a nice design and that are easy to use. And bottom line they are perhaps computers or gadgets (WHAT).
Editor: thanks, see graph of the Golden Circle by Sinek below:

Book: Sinek, S. (2009): Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

Communicating Strategy
@Y Srinivas rao: I agree with you that communicating strategy is all about timing. When and to what extent should the middle manager know about the upcoming changes? And when and to what extent should the supervisors and other staff know?
And when should it made public for all to hear about it?
All these questions show that communicating strategy is very important, things get messed up if communication of the strategy is not done effectively and at the right time to appropriate stakeholders.

Internal Communication Plans Needed for Various Organizational Levels
Frank, Member
For such high level strategy, the company needs internal communication plans. These should have target audiences with taylor-made messages to allow each level employee to understand the strategy.

Strategy Communication on a Need to Know Basis
The answer does not lie in a Yes or No. Infact, the answer is a mix of pragmatism and experience. Apply the Need to Know Basis-principle. There would be some who would have to be on board about the complete plan, whilst those at the cutting edge may need only the tactical part of the strategy to carry on or get into the direction that is required.

Communicating a Strategic Plan is Critical for Foundations of Success
Pat Hannon, Member
In order to manage strategic change, communicating a strategic plan is critical to building the foundations for success and by understanding that communication is a two-way process and feedback on communication is important especially if changes are of a nature where difficult decisions will have to be made and implemented.The purpose of the changes might be misunderstood.
The use of focus groups involving stakeholders to obtain feedback on implementing and accepting change will allow all to make sense of planned change and will stop the rumour mill kicking into action and reduce barriers to change.
Deciding how to communicate a strategic plan should not be viewed as a means to give information to a broad range of groups but as a way to create buy in for participation and ownership of the process show-casing your organization to potential investors who may be required to fund strategy the amount of information disbursed can be tailored, some groups get complete copies of the plan while others get edited ones.

Communicating Only a Part of your Strategy is Often a Necessity
Olivier Riviere, Member
By communicating a strategy, a set of tactics or product plans (= 3 different levels), a company "programs" its own environment, including its own workforce. Therefore, without being cynical, it is normal that some elements of the strategy are not to be communicated outside a small group of "need to know" people.
Mr. Christensen has raised an excellent point that sometimes can create complex and highly sensitive situations.
The economic life is full of such examples but, for obvious reasons, they are never publicly discussed...

Employees can also Provide INPUT for the Strategy
Wilf Marshall, Member
Interesting debate but it is rather based on the idea that members of the organization don't already know the strategy as it applies to their area of activity.
In my work I approach development of a corporate strategy as a two part OD activity; Part 1 defines the Strategic Intent and Part 2 develops the Strategic Capability.
One of the prime source of data, intelligence and ability for these activities are the members of the organization. And, through their participation, they become knowledgeable, aware and committed.
They also acquire the essential strategic framework for their local decisions; this develops operational alignment with strategic goals.
And as for those parts of the organization which don't fit the new strategy, how much better is it for them, and the parent, to come to this realization for themselves in time to be able to develop their own strategy for managing their disrupted future?
For me this is "empowerment in action" and the motivational impetus to be achieved from it is usually immense.

Preparing the Communication of the Strategy
alonge, Member
Before actually communicating a strategy (or not!), the management can get the peoples' perspectives about it, without really making the crux of it already known.
This can be achieved by using secret services of people who are remote from the organisation to engage the variious staff (opinion leaders) in social strategic discussions.
The responses will shed light on what the people want to hear and what they would dislike.

Disclosure of Strategy
Belay Gezahegn, Member
Strategy is a sketched map that leads to a vision. In a battle field strategy, the precise plan is not to be disclosed to the enemy, likewise the business strategy is not to be disclosed to rivalries.
We should decide who should know our strategy and who shouldn't.
It is however not logical to hide our strategy from employees who have to implement it.

Sometimes Not Communicating the Strategy is Called For
Conroy Fourie, Member
Some years ago I ran a business and we communicated the strategy fully and had all the elements in place to fulfil the strategy, forums, training, coaching etc. etc. This was a non-core business subsidiary of an international conglomerate.
Then the portfolio strategy changed and the Group decided to divest the business – sell or close down. In our view, in order to protect the going concern status of the business, we DID NOT communicate this Portfolio strategy to people in the business initially. Instead we ran the business for about 18 months to 24 months in this mode and eventually sold it as a going concern, protecting in our judgement about 250 jobs, although we always knew about 25 people would be retrenched in the process.
The group offered generous retrenchment packages for the affected people. In case you are wondering, I was also retrenched!
Did not telling people the “truth “upfront bother us? Of course, but we made a call to not communicate which we felt was the right call at the time.

Communicating Strategy is Important
Andrea Kelly
The communication of strategy is important to build the strategy map to achieve what is intended. Communication of strategy gears an organisation towards an action plan and for focus to be maintained and critical choices to be made in order to meet the strategic outcomes of the organisation.
Without the communication of strategy by senior management, what is intended to be achieved can not be drilled down to the lowest level, the individual work plan.
Further management would not be able to plan properly to ensure that:
- The organisation has the right capabilities (HR, technology and change management),
- Internal key processes are identified to deliver the objectives (e.g. performance, policy, programme and project, innovation, and process management),
- Its financial stewardship machinery is ready and to be able to view strategy in line with its stakeholders' (internal and external) needs.
But how, when and to whom the strategy is communicated is key.

Strategy Communication
Barry Schaeffer, Member
I think we may be confusing Strategy and Tactics.
A strategy is the broad goal set for any organization and must be capable of exposition in simple, clear and unambiguous language.
Tactics are everything the organization and its people may do to approach the goals articulated in the strategy statement. If the two become confabulated, the strategy appears so complex that the organization despairs of understanding let alone approaching it; and tactics become a restatement of what has passed for strategy, even more confusing.
As for communicating strategy; you wouldn't be able to hold a horse race if you didn't tell the jockeys that getting to the finish line first was the strategy. From there, the tactics are up to the jockey and trainer. Likewise, it seems that if the grunts don't know the strategy, how can they evaluate their actions against it? And if they fail, how do you hold them accountable for failing against a strategy they have never heard of?

Communicating your Strategy Could Help Develop Organisational Framework
Ngwashu kelvine, Member
McKinsey didn't make a mistake to include 7Ses in their 7S framework or concept. Which means to develop a complete framework for your company and to follow this concept you most communicate all the aspects of your 7Ss.

Communication of Strategy is Power Behind Change
Patrick Cauley, Member
In John Kotter's book “Leading Change”, he describes 8 reasons why many change effort fail (whether this is a vision change, mission change, objective change, project/task change).
Many of these failures have a direct relationship into the communication aspect of a given project. Certainly, the level of communication and the nature of the change have to correspond appropriately to protect the interest of the stakeholders (i.e. most visions can be open, transparent to all; many projects cannot be).
I believe it is critical that senior management be aware that the level of communication is directly related to the power, velocity, sustainability of the change. As John Kotter states "the real power of a vision is unleashed only when most those involved in an enterprise or activity have a a common understanding of its goals and direction". So choose wisely!

Support Communication of Strategy with Easy Data
Gandhi Heryanto, Member
Michael Birshan and Jayanti Kar, in McKinsey Quarterly said that you don’t need a formal strategy role to help shape your organization’s strategic direction. You can start by moving beyond frameworks and communicating in a more engaging way. Develop communications that can break through.
A more adaptive strategy-development process places a premium on effective communications from all the executives participating. A strategy journey model involves meeting for 2-4 hours every week or two to discuss strategy topics and requires each executive taking part to flag issues and lead the discussion about them.
We would add that as strategy becomes more of a real-time journey, it’s important to figure out ways to support discussions with data that’s engaging and easy to manipulate. To the extent possible, executives need to be able to push on data and its implications “in the moment,” instead of raising questions and then waiting two weeks for a team of analysts to come back with answers. Ideally, in fact, anyone.

Communicating Strategy Through Purposing and Action Research
Tom Wilson, Member
@Gandhi Heryanto: Peter Vaiil recommends meeting everyday for "Purposing", which is a daily translation of the strategic vision into the sort of task assignment @Erika Bellander outlines. This immersion in an expressed vision tends to support the McKinsey Quartery article as you report it. Vaiil has translated this model pretty much whole cloth from spiritual communities, such as a Friends assembly. It is very touchy feely, but it can be profoundly effective.
What is the difference between a vision and a strategy? The organization has been designed strategically: A vision describes the object of operational navigation within the context of this instrumental design and the operational mission is the process of tactical navigation. This is is particulary relevant to the action research model. Esprit de Corps is the essential cultural driver, which Purposing emphasizes.

Without Communication, Strategy Will Remain Wishful Thinking
@Pat Hannon: Yes, a strategy is only as good as execution. There are many cases when a good strategy failed due to poor implementation, and the primary reason behind poor implementation is usually no or improper communication, which gives rise to lack of ownership.
Execution of strategy is not a one-man show and with that being said, communicating the strategy is one of the fundamentals conditions among other that contribute to execution.

Strategy: to Tell or not to Tell
Andrew Blaine, Member
@Conroy Fourie: In my opinion, the step you took to limit the knowledge was a tactical decision, based on the goal to protect your business.
The end state that formed the ultimate goal of your original strategy was in line with the goal of the parent business.
With the business being separated from the parent, its ultimate goal as a separate entity must be re-defined.
As a part of this re-definition you decided that, on a tactical level, releasing the level was likely to result in a drop in morale and confidence which could bring about a situation in which it would not be possible to realise your strategic goal. Under these conditions your decision was both right and necessary, as supported by the end result. Congratulations.

Caution in Communication Strategy is Advisable
Ofwono Willy Osinde, Member
I agree that every organisation must have a strategy and communicate it. But as @Patrick Mulvey said, caution should be taken not to communicate every information without screening. It is quite important to have at the back of our minds that for communication to be effective, we use the 5Ws (who, where, why, when, whom and 1H (How). Taking an example of an animal feed plant controlling 70% of a given market share and the quality controller is on the media at every one moment giving details of their formula. I don't think it can take one complete year when that plant still controls the 70% share. Many competitors will have joined the business. So having a strategy communicated is good but we should know why, when, where, what, to whom and how much information is released.

To Communicate the Strategy we first Need to Understand it...
Alan Kennedy
Communicating the why's, how's, and what's of strategy assumes a good understanding of those factors. Consider this McKinsey study on understanding strategy: The boards and management of a 1000 companies around the world were surveyed. The findings: Management believed 50% of board members did not understand the long term strategies of the organization. The Board believed 40% of management did not understand the long term strategies. No wonder communicating strategy is such an issue. Not even the boards and management teams responsible for its creation and approval don't seem to fully understand it! What chance is there for good communication of strategy when the strategy itself is not well understood?
We first need to be certain that the folks who approved the strategy fully understand it. Only then we tackle the issues of strategy communication.

Upping the Communication of Strategy
Arif ur Rehman, Member
STRATEGY begs, nay demands, that it be based on simplicity, transparency, rationality, authenticity, transformation-ability, economy, geniality and all these sync with YONDER-ability – looking beyond the horizon. Communication Strategy then becomes a tool wherein each member ties up with the team and works in tandem with the concept of MBO – one can then ‘see’ exceptional results emanating at all levels, at all times!

Upping the Communication of Strategy
Tom Wilson, Member
@Arif ur Rehman: Well, yeah. MBO is another term for action research. You say tomato...

Communicating Strategy
Strategy should be communicated. As to why how and what it is for the top management to decide:
- To answer Why, there must be a valid reason for it to be communicated such as that to whom it should be communicated is directly affect specially in the implementation.
- HOW? The proper way communication should be sent.
- WHY, of course for information, serve as guide and for feedback purposes.
And be sure that vital information is not leaked to competitors.

Tom Wilson, Member
@LEAH LYNDA I. STA ANA: A mission statement is probably the most important strategic communication that needs to be done. It is a statement of the business the organization is in. Everything flows from this defining statement. The Why and How should be obvious.
Much of the discussion of strategy in this forum speaks more to what I might characterize as gamesmanship, such as the poker example I made. That falls into a little different category, where discretion is important.
But the essential communication about strategy begins with the mission statement, which is more important than a vision statement.

... Then what About Coordination?
jorge anibal hoyos hoyos, Member
If the strategy is not communicated clearly and clear-cut into what general frame the components of the organizations can effectively work and the coordinated efforts where will wind up?

Communicating the Strategy- the Essential Step while Implementing Strategy
anil aggarwal, Member
The communication of appropriate information (strategy related) to the concerned individuals or groups that can influence the strategy or can be influenced by it plays an important role in the effective implementation.
It tends to build and develop relationships with the concerned individuals or groups that can influence the strategy or can be influenced (i.e. stakeholders).
Furthermore, communication is also a mediating tool that tends to influence the attitudes and behaviors within the wider environment of strategic framework. The provision of information (environmental education) has been subjected to proper/relevant communication of formulated strategy to the specific audiences.
Communicating strategy is the first step towards the execution and it tends to work. Communication is purposeful to get the message across the audiences, let them to understand the scenario and yield desired response.

Vision ≠ Mission ≠ Strategy ≠ Tactics
Andrew Blaine, Member
When describing the difference between strategy and vision, I often use the following simile situation:
1. Imagine you see a fantastic opportunity (Vision) in some out of the way place, such as Pofadder. You decide to go there (Mision).
2. The next step is to plan how you are going to get to Pofadder to take advantage of the opportunity - this is your strategy.
3. Planning the individual steps that result in your arrival in Pofadder is your Tactics.
By the way there is a town called Pofadder and, although simplistic, this process helped me differentiate. The same process can be applied in business, in my opinion.

Golden Circle is a Start
Dennis van der Spoel, Member
@Dennis van der Spoel: The Golden Circle is a start, a tool to structure your mission and vision. Execution, however, is in The Art of Action (Stephen Bungay).

Essentials of Communicating Strategy
Arif ur Rehman, Member
Top management must design the business plan and frame strategies to execute it. To proceed with the strategy, all employees need to be engaged; this demands how the strategy is understood – thus it becomes implementable. This articulates the company’s direction – where it is headed to.
What is challenging, however, is how to communicate the same strategy to different levels of employees. It could be by storytelling, via social networks, to sky-boarding, but it needs constant reminders and occasional redressals.
More importantly, this information should flow from the horse’s mouth (Editor: ~from a primary, reliable source).
Finally, at the end of each fiscal cycle a 360 degrees review must be in place.

Delivering the Mission Statement
Arif ur Rehman, Member
Dear all: a mission statement -- compact proclamation by an organization -- conveys its ‘raison d'ętre’ and highlights its goals and principles. It informs both internal and external customers what they should expect when dealing with the organization, and helps guide internally the decisions-making process.
The recipe to make it acceptable is that it be simple, informative, memorable, achievable, reflects the company’s ethos, culture, core values and aspirations, such that employees buy into it, all bundled with an active verb.
It’s conveyance – the whys and the hows – admittedly must take the organizational ‘pulse’ into account, so that it almost seamlessly merges with the prevailing culture and ethos.

Strategy Must be Communicated
zulganef sutan sati, Member
@Erika Bellander: How could you differentiate between strategy and the plan that breaks down from the strategy? Since everybody knows that from the strategic plan we could see or read the real strategy behind the plan. So I think I am disagreeing that the strategy is not to be fully communicated, even the breakdowns.

Breaking Down Strategy Communication
Erika Bellander, Member
@Zulganef sutan sati: The breakdown will look at the areas that you need to enhance the the strategy.
For example, a new product-assortment would require hirings, financials, new processes in place etc. That breakdown is to guarantee that there will be no conflicting goals further down in the organization and people that are affected should participate. Always a work between the actual management line and the organization level below.
The openness should be of the relevant issues, so that the budget for a specific plant in a specific segment is not open to others than those involved or affected. The business plans that come out of this (timely) in the end must be taken care of in the same manner as for project plans, with stakeholder analysis, RA etc.
If you do a too detailed strategy it is going to fail somehow, so better to be lean and creating involvement than not-communicating.

Communicate the Strategy, Not the Tactics
Belay Gezahegn, Member
I think strategy and tactics are confused here. The strategy to make your organisation profitable is quite different from the tactics you adopt to materialise your strategy of being profitable. The tactics are better not to be disclosed to the unconcerned.


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