Strategy – have a backbone

26 March 2013

As part of our ‘Building Public Trust’ initiative, we’ve been having an exciting discussion about what’s ‘game changing’ for business and their communications with stakeholders. Strategy was the first topic we discussed and we have summarised our thinking in a short paper on the main issues: Strategy – have a backbone.

Strategy: empty word or meaningful action?

There’s a real danger that ‘strategy’ can be an empty word – something just used to describe general aims that might be relevant to investors. The leaked US Department of Defence memo ‘banishing’ the term ‘strategic communications’  in December last year,  is an interesting illustration. The term was becoming redundant for some, and was confusing for others.  Management decided that all communication should be strategic, and so the term went.

Clearly, the word still has great value in the business community. But it seems that if you’re going to talk about strategy, it pays to be clear.

And today’s reporting on strategy does not seem to be clear enough to manage risks effectively and satisfy investors and others going forward. Our recent survey shows that only 27% of FTSE 350 companies explain the actions they take to deliver their strategic priorities; and less than half provide any targets or timeframes to achieve even a single priority. Many also struggle to align their KPIs to their strategy.

What gets measured gets done

As you’d expect, bringing strategy to life is greatly helped by setting up relevant measures to monitor and manage how people and the business overall are progressing towards the strategic goals. It turns out that the old adage is true: ‘what gets measured gets done’.

The right metrics enable better planning and forecasting. When performance can be measured against forecasts that derive directly from strategy, it’s so much easier to reward and encourage the behaviours that will achieve those goals.

In a global environment where  distrust and uncertainty are easily triggered, reporting on strategy is no longer about broadcasting what you do, it’s about making it clear how you create value in sustainable ways  that can withstand the weight of both scrutiny and regulation. It’s about explaining your plan, the assumptions that underpin it and the ways you’ll be measuring your success, so that employees know their role and investors understand your focus.

The short paper – Strategy: have a backbone – includes some questions to help you consider how your organisation measures up and ideas on where to focus.

Please do share your thoughts on this topic – can you access the information you’d like on the strategy of the organisations you are involved with?  (as an employee, employer, supplier, investor or other interested party)

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