Don’t Try to Communicate Strategy Without Context

January 30, 2020

Contributor: Jordan Bryan

Communications leaders expect managers to spread the word on strategy; make sure they have and share the context employees need.

Employees rely on their managers for insight into organizational strategy. Comms leaders understand the power of this “manager channel,” but struggle to leverage it effectively.

“The number of employees strongly aligned to enterprise strategy has declined, so comms leaders need managers to tell the strategy story well. But comms leaders are fixated on controlling top-down communications and end up giving managers messaging that is stripped of critical details about strategy needed to make the information meaningful to employees,” says LK Klein, Director, Research, Gartner.

The better managers are at providing context, the better their employees perform

Gartner research shows that when managers explain how company strategy connects to employees’ daily work, employees are more aligned with organizational goals and their performance improves. The better managers are at providing context, the better their employees perform. For the average company, every 1% increase in employee performance corresponds to a $6.5 million increase per $1 billion in revenue.

“It’s up to comms leaders to make sure managers have what they need to provide context for their teams so they can translate strategic information into specific actions,” says Klein.

Why your “minimalist” approach isn’t working

To make it easier for managers, comms focuses on simplifying messages for consistency. But managers often don’t understand the strategy themselves, so they are unable to communicate it effectively to employees. “Fewer than half of managers understand organizational strategy,” says Klein. 

A lack of information or materials needed to communicate effectively was among the top challenges cited in a Gartner survey of 517 managers.

A focus on consistency can also make it hard for managers to customize their messages. For example, if comms provides scripted conversations, managers can’t translate or add information that employees need to understand what the strategy means for them.

Gartner comparison of minimalist and contextualization approach

Make it easier for managers to communicate complex ideas 

Gartner research finds that the manager channel is rated as the most preferred and most effective by employees, so comms leaders should make it easier for managers to communicate complex ideas like company strategy.

Reduce the overall number of messages you ask managers to communicate and improve the quality of your supporting materials. Allow managers to customize information by providing them with tools to identify and overcome employee barriers to strategy execution. Also, make sure managers know when and how to escalate issues they can’t solve alone.

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