Most CEOs are good at talking about company strategy. Once a year they remind everyone what it is and say how well the company is doing at fulfilling it. Then they leave it to everyone else to execute.
95% of CEOs think their people are committed to their strategy but an astonishing 80% of senior executives don’t know what the strategy is. That filters straight down through all levels to the employees on the factory floor. Whose fault is that? If you’re a senior leader at that organisation, it’s yours.
Selling the strategy
People don’t wake up one morning committed to a strategy. They need it to be sold to them. They need to be emotionally committed to it, which is totally different from simply knowing it. To win emotional commitment, you have to take people through four stages.
Stage 1: I know
I know what the strategy is.
Stage 2: I understand
I know what you want me to do and I know why it’s important for the organisation and for me.
Stage 3: I think I will/I can
I trust that this is possible and can see how we’ll do it.
Stage 4: I will
I will do it.
The first stage – the communication stage – is the easiest because it’s practical. But you need to go beyond simply communicating your strategy; you need to make people understand what’s in it for them in following this particular strategy. If they don’t have that, they won’t invest emotion into their jobs and they probably won’t execute the strategy. It’s that simple.
The third stage is about making the strategy believable and achievable. The best way to do that is by generating early victories. The first early victory is unlikely to make people believers in the strategy. But over time you generate more victories and as they see these results, they start saying ‘maybe we can do this.’
Finally, you have to win people’s hearts. You can do this by making your people feel special and by making them feel a team. This doesn’t happen by chance – it happens with hard work, and it takes time.
It should be obvious that this doesn’t happen quickly. You’re not going to win emotional commitment overnight because people need to see tangible results. The stories you hear of motivational and charismatic leaders saying, “Follow me and we’ll all achieve our goals!” are myths. All charisma allows you to do is communicate. For people to believe in you, they need to see you succeed.
Look at Apple. When Steve Jobs set about to develop the Macintosh in 1983, few people believed that he can succeed against the formidable IBM. But after generating victory after victory, his people bought into his vision and the Macintosh ended up being a great success for Apple. This pattern has continued over the last 20 years. Apple is now an organisation that people love to work for. If you talk to an Apple employee, you will feel their passion, pride, excitement for their company. I challenge you to go and find one and ask them about their job. Their chest will pop out with pride.
When you engage people emotionally, you win their passion. The sense of pride Apple employees feel comes from knowing that their company has changed the world and continues to do so. You don’t need to be CEO of Apple to do that.