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Getting employees involved

Getting employees involved 

By Josh O'Kane

Designing a strategic plan can be a gruelling process, but it's also just the beginning - not only do you have to execute it, but you have to live with the result.

And so do your employees, which is why they need to feel like key players in the plan. They don't just need to be on board; they need to be engaged, so that everyone is happy with the end result.

Eric Morse has extensive experience looking at strategy development from both a corporate and academic perspective. Over the course of his career, he's seen companies wrangle with a sense of gloom once they've finished the strategic planning process. "One of the things that always occurred to me was a lack of satisfaction with the outcome," says Prof. Morse, associate dean of programs at the University of Western Ontario's Ivey School of Business. "And that always bothered me."

So Prof. Morse - founder of Ivey and KPMG Enterprise's QuantumShift Executive Program for Exceptional Entrepreneurs - designed a seminar to help small and medium-sized businesses include employees in the strategic planning process. "It's about people," he says. "How do we engage more people in the strategy process?"

There is no one-size-fits-all way to accomplish this, he warns, but the key is to make every employee feel like their contributions to the workplace - both in their positions and in designing a strategy - are important to the company. "At the end of the day, if plans don't engage and animate the people you work with, they're really not worth doing," says Prof. Morse.

Here are six tips from Prof. Morse to better include and engage your employees for more effective strategic planning.

Actually have a strategic planning process
It sounds simple, but Prof. Morse says as many as 40 per cent of companies don't have an official strategic planning process. "You start to ask people why that is, and you get a lot of reasons," he says. The complexity of planning, its time-consuming nature, and the rapidly changing nature of some industries often come up as examples. "All of those things are excuses," Prof. Morse says. Just as bad is a formal process that no one follows. "Too often what you see is a plan that's really static and sits on a shelf someplace. Fewer and fewer people are doing it. That's what we have to overcome."

Start from the basics
"There are a million different ways to go about it," Prof. Morse says. But the first thing you should ask yourself is why you're in this long race to begin with. "Let's figure out why we win in the marketplace, and why we lose sometimes, and figure out how we can win more. That's really what we're trying to get at with this strategic plan."

Admit your limitations
Everyone has a special skill set, but when you land at the top of a company, your marketing, operations or engineering expertise might not have prepared you to design a strategic plan. So you should be looking for advice not just across the board table, but across the company as a whole. The people who work for you are the ones carrying out the tasks that define your business, so let their expertise guide you. "If the goal is to animate people, then the goal of the process is to engage people throughout," Prof. Morse says.

Design experiments in the context of reality
When you're sussing out options, it's important to make sure they pass all the necessary stress tests. So let your employees practise in real time - this is a key opportunity to engage them and make sure your strategic plan is headed in the right direction. "We're not 100 per cent sure how to get there," Prof. Morse says, "so it's a better idea to push the decision-making down and design experiments that will test the best way to get somewhere." Instead of heavy planning, give employees direction, and they in turn will learn the best way forward through experimentation. "Let's get more minds thinking about how to win in the marketplace."

Make employees feel wanted in the first place
If employees don't want to get involved, that points to a bigger issue. "When we have apathetic employees, it means we've screwed something up at some point," Prof. Morse says. "Your job as a leader is to help them understand their role in making the organization successful." This means knowing your employees by name, knowing about their lives, stopping by to make small talk - as well as letting them know you're thankful for their contributions. This gives their work greater meaning, and makes them more eager to provide input for a strategic plan. It lets you have the "kind of engagement where people do want to offer ideas on how to do better," Prof. Morse says.

Don't be afraid to look outside, too
Looking outside the organization can also give you a sense of perspective. Mention you're going through a strategic planning process to your contacts, and run some ideas by them. "Get others involved," Prof. Morse says. "You have key people in your life that have tremendous networks. Do you talk with them about how to win in your marketplace?" These connections will think about it, and could come up with an idea or opportunity you haven't thought of.

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