Who is the weak link in your strategic chain?

How are your strategic objectives looking for 2015? In this article we look at the challenges facing how you achieve your strategic objectives. Is it you? How you communicate? Or — gasp! — your board of directors?

At Brutal Pixie, we don’t believe in resolutions. Instead, we’d like to challenge you to gird yourself for an inward look before you start focusing on delivering your goods. (Whatever those goods might be.)

This image tells us that business as usual is a dead end. Image courtesy opensource.com, used under Creative Commons license.
Image by opensource​.com, used under Creative Commons License.

Boards of directors aren’t focused on strategic, long-​term value

A new article in the Harvard Business Review makes the damning claim that only 22% of companies has a board of directors that is totally across how the company creates value.

The article, titled, Where Boards Fall Short is filled with startling statistics. In 2014, a survey of 604 executives and directors worldwide were asked which pressure source results in a focus on short-​term results rather than long-​term value, and 46% nominated by the board. Of those who sit on the board, 74% nominated themselves.

The question of how your company creates value should be a no-​brainer for a company director. And so should a long-​term perspective.

The article goes on to discuss the whys, hows, and wherefores of this situation. But of greatest importance to us is this:

While we recommend that directors dedicate at least 35 days a year to the job, in our view the precise number of days a board meets or the mix of field trips isn’t the main issue. If the aim is fostering the proper long-​term view, what matters most is the quality and depth of the strategic conversations that take place.

If your company isn’t having those strategic conversations, just getting them started is problematic. Measuring the quality of that focus is even harder. And bringing the board into an active strategic dialogue with the rest of management? That’s even trickier.

Strategy communication is hit and miss

In 2013, Poulston, Rosalin, and Goodsir conducted a study of family-​owned food businesses, like restaurants, in New Zealand. The study examined the notion of strategy communication in these companies.

What the study found is that the mission and vision were discussed more often than the strategies themselves. More to the point, the strategy was inconsistently communicated throughout the business, and tended to be hit and miss between the business vision and the business goals.

What they found is that successful implementation is only possible if everyone in the company has the same understanding of the company’s objectives.

To be effective, strategy communication needs to support a vision (Aaltonen & Ikävalko, 2002), but without a strategy to implement the vision, there is nothing to communicate to help employees understand the values, direction and goals of the business (Wilson, 1992).

Business objectives aren’t communicated… and performance metrics aren’t set

And in Indonesia, a study of 60 companies in 2013 found that the most prominent problem that inhibits strategy implementation is that the business objectives are “not communicated, understood, and internalised by everyone at the company”.

In something that we often find in companies ourselves, that same study showed that of those surveyed 37.44% agreed or strongly agreed that key metrics, tied to the achievement of corporate strategy, were missing.

So it begs the question: If you have strategic objectives, but your people (a) don’t know, understand, or work to them, and (b) aren’t being measured against their achievement, how are you going to move forwards?

More importantly, how can you expect your teams to move your business forward if your board isn’t… well… on board? And if that top-​down communication is failing?

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?

Get your board involved, and start reconnecting to your ultimate objectives

When you consider your values, your key messages, and your content and communication objects, can you even begin without having the board involved? Increasingly, we would say that no, you can’t. Your directors are part of your leadership team.

Your board needs to help steer your company. Nobody can steer anybody towards anything without a good understanding of the destination, and some idea of the way to get there.

It is interesting to us, as a company that believes content strategy is a driver for new strategies in the 21st Century, to see the disconnects that we observe reflected in formal studies.

What can I do to fix this?

Making a decision to reconnect is not one that can be taken lightly. It is something that may even change your company’s approach to innovation: You will have many more voices contributing to your conversation.

Where you start depends on what your strongest pain point is. You might need to:

  • rewrite and rethink all of your strategies (if you don’t have people in yours, for example, then you can’t drive towards a cohesive team)
  • re-​evaluate your performance metrics
  • start right at the basics and reorient your board to your business
  • bring in someone that can help you connect your strategic objectives to your internal communications and key messages.

No disconnect in any company is irretrievable. It does take courage, and a commitment towards gaining long-​term results and long-​term value. Not much is going to help you if all you are focused on are short-​term gains.

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