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Most of your leaders can't explain your strategy

Leah McKerrow
Leah McKerrow
Monday, May 29, 2023

I was working with a group of senior leaders recently and asked them to succinctly articulate their business strategy. The results were confronting. Most struggled and even amongst those that responded, there was wide variation. The CEO’s reaction was disappointment.

Most of your leaders can't explain your strategy

Reasons your strategic aspirations are failing.

This reminded me of a recent HBR article about the importance of a strategy needing a story. In that article, one statistic jumped out at me. It was from MIT Sloan magazine about research undertaken in 2018. It found that just 28% of senior leaders and middle managers could recount at least three of the strategic goals of their organisation. Less than a third! Yikes – no wonder activation of strategy struggles! Digging into it, they found some interesting reasons.  


Assuming alignment.  

We’re all on the same page and we all have a common understanding of the strategy. Apparently not! Top teams overestimate alignment and rely on this when engaging their people to deliver. It’s only in conversation that we can ‘test’ alignment and hear how people ‘feel’ about the strategy and how aligned they really are.  

Lack of agreement about the strategy at the top.  

While the companies studied showed that half of the top teams could list the priorities, the other half were completely out of touch and disconnected with it. There can be some unhappiness with certain aspects of a strategy, and this can play out in leaders either overtly or covertly undermining the direction. Or even simply misunderstanding it! If leaders don’t like or connect with the strategy, they’ll struggle to engage others.  

Strong drop-off in alignment between the executive suite and middle managers.

This is surprising as you’d expect direct reports of executives would be ‘tuned in’ to the overall business direction and how their teams contribute. It suggests the C-Suite aren’t putting enough effort into engaging their teams.

Just 28% of senior leaders and middle managers could recount at least three of the strategic goals of their organisation. MIT Sloan Management Review

Change happens in the conversation.

Your strategy will benefit from an effective story to support it as HBR suggests. But that's not enough. Leaders need to engage their teams in richer conversations that contextualise the strategy to their areas of focus and contribution. Conversations that build alignment and get everyone connected and co-creating their ways of working. And not surprisingly, this needs to start with the C-Suite engaging their teams. Then encouraging and enabling their leaders to do likewise. That’s the ‘what’ they need to do. The tougher piece is the ‘how’ to do that. A few can do it naturally. Most struggle to do it well, if they do it at all.  

The right conversations, at the right time.

Leadrly goes to the heart of the 'how' by providing new and experienced leaders with easy to follow, step-by-step guides for leading these important conversations that improve focus and build the positive momentum needed to activate your strategy.  

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