As the New Year starts, I get many calls from friends who own companies, current and past clients, and even the occasional random executive who finds my blog asking about ways to operationalize and, more importantly, communicate strategy. There are many variables to consider when answering the question such as the type and stage of the company, the type and extent of the strategy, the changes anticipated, etc. but there is one thing that has to always happen. Communicate the strategy so it becomes the underlying assumption that shapes and drives operational decisions. Here are two thoughts to consider when communicating strategy:

  1. The most important concept is to start with a simple strategy statement that clearly outlines what you plan to do/be, and as importantly some of the things you will not do/be.  Communicating that is a balance between the numbingly boring language of corporatespeak, and the passionate and exciting language of visionaries.  Please don’t fall for the “one sentence strategy” trap.  I love the folklore around some of the one sentence mission statements (like MSFT’s “A computer on every desk”, or Google’s “Don’t be evil”) but most of the ones frequently used as examples, are marketing or motivational/inspirational tag lines being confused as strategy. 

    In my experience, the most effective way to communicate it is to create three documents, the first two generated by the executive team under the direct leadership of the CEO (and often with the help of members of the board and/or consultants), and the last one generated by each executive for their area with the help of their direct reports and their consultants. 

    1. The first document is the “Five Year Strategy” for the executive team, investors, board members, etc. It should be no longer than a couple of pages long) and must clearly describe the overriding direction of the company, the key components of the strategy for each area of responsibility, along with the relevant metrics that will define success (so COO will have a couple of paragraphs for ops, CFO for finance, CMO for marketing, CLO for Legal, CTO for tech, Division Heads for their Groups, etc.).  I know it may seem counter-intuitive, but making this document as simple, and yet as meaningful as possible, is a very time-consuming and frustrating exercise.  Keep in mind this is a document that will be often referred to as the baseline, so getting it right is extremely important.  I have often gone through a dozen major revisions with clients after a session before we can lock it down (even in one case where the client’s core strategy was a simple “we will be opportunistic in reviewing investment and acquisition opportunities”).  To make changes to the document will require the convening of the team/board and a reconsideration of the strategies in the context of a significant/extreme scenario (if the team used Scenario Based Planning) starting to take shape.
    2. The second document is the “Our Strategy” document for the “public display areas”.  It should be a creative one page document that captures the strategy in language and terms the front line team(s) can understand.  I’ve seen and created these both in a graphical poster format, as well as inspirational one page documents (suitable for framing ;-)).  The language should be clear about where the company is going, what it means for the employees, and what the expectations are for them.  ** These first two documents should be assumed public knowledge so they can’t contain any competitive or real operational data.
    3. The third document is the more detailed “Annual Objectives and Quarterly Priorities” document for each division/department/section.  It should be aligned with the first document, must be created/owned by each executive for their area, and it should include the big picture five year objectives, and every year must be updated with the annual objectives and related quarterly priorities.  The format is very simple:
      1. Five Year Objectives
        1. Manager Name: xxxx   Area of Responsibility: xxxx Year Expected to achieve: xxxx  Approved by: xxxx
          Objective Description: xxxx  Relative Priority: xxxx Standard of Performance/Metrics: xxxx
        2. Annual Objectives
          1. Manager Name: xxxx   Area of Responsibility: xxxx Qtr/Mo Expected to achieve: xxxx  Approved by: xxxx
            Objective Description: xxxx  Relative Priority:xxxx Standard of Performance/Metrics: xxxx
          2. Quarterly Objectives and Priorities
            1. Manager Name: xxxx   Area of Responsibility: xxxx Qtr/Mo Expected to achieve: xxxx  Approved by: xxxx
              Objective Description: xxxx  Relative Priority: xxxx Standard of Performance/Metrics: xxxx

        ** Note:The annual and quarterly objectives documents can also form the baseline for the CEO to evaluate performance for each executive.


  2. The second part is to determine what the most effective way will be to, repeatedly and consistently (and I underscore those), communicate the same message from everyone on the executive team at every opportunity.  I’ve seen everything from “Letters from the Chairman” to “The Big Cheese monthly e-mail”, to “The Pink Minutes”, to “Visits from the CEO”, to “CEO Fireside Chats”, to “The Monthly Video Update”, etc.  In the end, you have to determine the one or two most effective channels to deliver the message and continue re-enforcing it.


I wish you all a Happy and Profitable New Year