Getting the message across

Communicating strategy goals to the managers who need to do the work.

Getting the message across

Organisations are designed to be good at getting things done. Strategy implementation is mostly about ensuring that key strategic initiatives get done - so on the face of it organisations should be great at implementing strategy. Trouble is, they are not. 2GC’s ACME Strategy Implementation framework has been designed to fix this. In this feature we look at the second step of the framework approach - C - for Communication.

Strategy Implementation is about getting things done (see first article in series for more depth on this point). Before you can implement a strategy you have to work out what you want the strategy to achieve, and how your organisation is going to achieve these outcomes. We looked at how the 2GC ACME Strategy Implementation framework helps you do this in the second article in this series.

These are important first steps, but multiple studies have shown that the very large majority of strategies fail to deliver the results hoped for. People who study management as an activity know a lot about why these failures occur - and it seems most of the time the failures are because the strategy itself is simply not implemented, rather than the strategy being ‘wrong’. For example, Nokia, a mobile telephony company, whose strategic failures resulted in it falling from market leader to an also-ran during the early 2000s, didn’t lack for strategic plans or highly informed people. As Julian Birkinshaw - a professor at the London Business School - reported:

“Through this whole period, people in Nokia were highly aware of the changes going on around them, and they were never short of leading-edge technology or clever marketers. Where they struggled was in converting awareness into action. The necessary knowledge about what to do existed, but the company lacked the capacity to move on it in a decisive and committed way.”

Julian Birkinshaw in “Tracking the enemies of agility” - London Business School Review, 14 May 2013

In “Five Steps to Achieve Strategic Success” we looked at the reasons for this inability to act - and found that ‘converting awareness to action’ depends critically upon two things: configuration (is the organisation able to do the things you need it to?) and communication (does the organisation know what you need it to do?). The ‘A’ in 2GC’s ACME Strategy Implementation framework focuses upon the first of these two things, the ‘C’ focuses upon the second. Put succinctly, it is very hard to make a contribution to the implementation of a strategy if you don’t know what you are supposed to be doing.

There are two aspects to how ACME approaches Communication.

  • First ACME is concerned about how the goals themselves are communicated. A recent study found that strategy communications suffer from Goal Ambiguity - strategies being described in terms that managers found hard to relate to the tasks they managed, hard to assess their contribution toward, and difficult to prioritise. Part of the problem was Mission comprehension ambiguity (i.e. they were not sure what the strategy was hoping to achieve overall), but mostly the issue was that the goals themselves were just poorly described.
  • Second, ACME is concerned about confirming that the messages have got through and were understood correctly. A lot of strategy communication is ‘one-way’ - time and energy is put into sending out nicely presented strategy documents (and associated material and activities). But little is spent on checking to see whether the message received was the one sent: did people get the message, and how are they going to act upon it?

“The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it.”

“Is Anybody Listening?” by William Hollingsworth Whyte, Fortune Magazine, September 1950.

The 2GC ACME framework addresses this issue of goal ambiguity, and the need to check understanding, through the use of a simple but powerful approach called cascading. This is a simple repetitive process which gets the leaders of each layer of an organisation to write a concise, locally relevant summary of the messages received regarding the corporate organisational goals and how they relate specifically to their part of the organisation. It is not a new idea, but it is highly effective if done well. The concise summary documents the managers produce have multiple roles: they act as an efficient source of strategic information for those they lead; and they also provide an easy way for the leaders of the organisation to check to see if their messages are getting through. A useful side-benefit is that once managers translate the strategic messages into ‘locally relevant’ statements, it is then easier to identify priorities for their teams and to decide how to track the contributions they make.

These action steps embody a common sense approach to strategy communication - but we remain surprised at how hard it is to do. One reason is that strategy implementation requires people to undertake activities that are not part of their ‘day job’: in a world made ever more productive, sometimes people simply do not have the time or resources available to do these non-core activities well. Our experience is that bundling up these sensible activities within a programme such as ACME helps people to find the time (and to be allocated sufficient resources) to do the communications required - and further, for these communication patterns to become established as the natural way of making such communications work: helping strategy implementation becomes just another part of the day job.

Strategy implementation is hard, but doesn’t need to be

In this series of short features we are describing aspects of 2GC’s ACME strategy implementation framework. This simple, robust and effective framework has evolved from 2GC’s 16 years of practical work with organisations around the world and across many sectors, is grounded in strong management theories and reflects best practice methods in the steps it describes.


​To find out more about ACME and how it can transform your organisation’s strategy implementation success, read the other features in the series - previous articles are linked at the bottom of the page. For future articles, sign up to 2GC’s email update service, or follow our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages to get notified as soon as they appear.

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