There can be significant benefits of involving employees in developing your strategy. From increasing commitment to the firm and the strategy to gaining valuable feedback, it can be useful to involve employees. This article explores particle and effective approaches for including employees in strategic planning.
Approaches for involving employees in strategic planning
Approach 1: Involve employees in strategic planning meetings
Possibly the most direct way of involving employees within strategy formation is to include them within planning meetings. While this approach may not work if you have a large company, for small firms (and especially recent startups), it is possible to involve everyone within the company in setting the direction of the firm.
There are several advantages to involving them within the meetings, including:
- Ideas and suggestions: Employees who are close to the customers or implementation may have insight that can improve the strategy.
- Helps overcome resistance to implementation: Getting employees involved right from the very beginning of developing the direction of the company can help overcome resistance – they may better understand the justification for a decision, and being involved in the process can result in increased buy-in to the strategy’s implementation.
- Increases commitment to the firm: Beyond the immediate benefit of improving the implementation of the strategy, involving employees can also increase commitment to the company more broadly. It is a privilege to be asked to be involved in setting the direction of the firm, and employees may feel it is more their company having had some involvement in setting its direction.
Approach 2: Focus groups - exploring specific issues
Once your firm starts to grow, it is no longer likely possible to involve all employees in setting the direction – there may be too many different options, and it can be difficult to set the direction of a firm in a large committee – there needs to be some unifying vision. There may however still opportunities to involve employees in a more focused way – setting the direction for a more specific part of the organization.
Focus groups can be a great way of involving employees. Rather than expecting feedback on parts of the business that they may not have direct experience in, focus groups allow employees to feel involved in specific areas that they have experience. Quite likely they will have thoughts that can improve the decisions or help with implementation. Even if few adaptions are made to the overall approach taken, getting involvement can still increase buy-in to the implementation of the approach to be taken.
Approach 3: Communicate the strategy with employees
Even if you don’t want to directly involve employees in the process of developing the strategy, you can still involve them by communicating the strategy. There is a wide variation between firms in the extent to which employees are kept in the loop on the strategy of the firm. Some firms are open and disseminate the decisions to employees. Others opt to keep employees in the dark under the belief that there is little reason to communicate information that does not directly pertain to the roles of lower employees.
Communicating the strategy in the firm can help unify the organization. If individuals are kept in the dark, they may not appreciate the overall objective of the firm. Ultimately a lot of day-to-day implementation decisions will be made outside of the corporate planning cycle. By sharing the strategy in the company, you increase the likelihood that employees will take decisions in that are in-keeping with the approach that the firm is taking.
Approach 4: Asking for employee feedback on specific issues
Sometimes it is not necessary or feasible to have dedicated focus groups for exploring all parts of a firm’s strategy. Instead, you may be able to involve employees by seeking feedback on specific issues. This can be effective at not only getting targetted input on specific areas where lower employees may have valuable input but also allows you to signal your appreciation of their skills – asking for input shows that you value their suggestions.
Approach 5: Helping employees understand the reasons for decisions
A final way of involving employees in strategic decision-making is to help them understand the justification behind specific decisions. Helping to explain why the firm is taking specific actions can go a long way in overcoming resistance. A source of resistance within firms is a lack of understanding for why the firm is taking specific actions – taking the time to explain why specific decisions have been made can help get them on board (while also giving them opportunities to provide feedback that is in line with the overarching direction).
Final thoughts: Overcoming hesitation to involve employees in developing your strategy
One concern that founders sometimes have with involving employees in strategy discussions is that somehow the company’s secrets will leak out; that discussing information with employees will suddenly lead to other firms being able to copy your business idea.
While it is important to be aware of the need for secrecy, ultimately, if you are able to ‘give away your secret source’, your firm is unlikely to have the necessary components to prevent imitation. If you have genuine concerns that sharing basic important about your company will lead to new entrants, and that new firms would be able to easily catch up with your performance, this in itself should be a key warning about your business model. Ultimately, you will need to launch your business, and at that point, such low industry entry barriers will likely mean other firms are quickly able to enter your market.