Engage Your Staff in Developing Your Strategic Plan

How do we get our employees engaged so they help achieve the goals and objectives in our strategic plan? It’s a common management conundrum, not just for HR leaders, but for others as well. After all, when employees aren’t engaged with their work, the impact on organizations is significant.

Positive employee relations has long been top-of-mind for the HR profession. Senior executives are beginning to notice too. In fact, an in-depth survey from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services of 568 business leaders from organizations with 500 or more employees revealed that, when asked about the factors most likely to bring success to their organizations, 71 percent said “high level of employee engagement.”

Unfortunately, it appears they still have a ways to go to make this a reality. The Harvard survey reveals that only 24 percent of the business leaders said they would consider their employees highly engaged.

Their perceptions aren’t far off the mark. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study of more than 350,000 employees, about 70 percent are disengaged.

Can Involvement in Strategy Boost Engagement?

There are a wide range of things that impact employee engagement levels. One critical factor is the opportunity for input and the confidence that the work they do actually matters.

Can involvement in the strategic planning process make a difference? Richard Axelrod, the author of Terms of Engagement: New Ways of Leading and Changing Organizations, thinks so. Far too often, Axelrod points out, “the few decide for the many.” It’s not surprising to note that, when this is the process that occurs, most employees aren’t likely to be engaged.

Matt Dubin agrees. Dubin heads a culture and leadership development firm focused on how leaders can increase engagement among millennial employees. “To quote the musical ‘Hamilton,’ make sure your staff is in ‘the room where it happens’ during the development process,” recommends Dubin. “Include them in meetings and emails from the beginning stages so they know they are truly a valued, contributing member of the planning committee.” In addition, he says, be aware that some staff members may be hesitant to speak up in meetings. “Make sure you’re taking additional steps to ask them directly for input in some other forum that is more comfortable to them.”

Getting Employees Interested

While managers choosing not to involve employees in the planning process is one key barrier that can lead to poor engagement, another is employees simply not being interested!

Dubin says, “When we think of strategic planning, we naturally think of ‘big picture’ thinking and bold ideas. That can be intimidating to some staff members.

But, he adds, “Creating a strategic plan also requires a high level of detail, so make sure you are putting each staff member in position to succeed, whether they are more detail-oriented or big-picture minded. Assign tasks based on what you know your people will excel at.”

Getting employees interested in planning efforts may be less difficult than you think. In fact, the Gallup organization’s research has led it to identify 12 factors that most impact employee satisfaction, or engagement. Among them:

  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/vision of your company make you feel your job is important?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

Don’t underestimate the value that your employees can bring to the planning process. They’re poised to make meaningful contributions. If your employees just don’t seem to care, there may be a good reason.

Tips for Better Engagement

To help organizations improve, Richard Axelrod offers five tips for effectively engaging staff:

  1. Create psychological safety. People need to feel free to speak their minds. Listening for understanding during this process, rather than trying to change people’s minds, is a good best practice.
  2. Involve people impacted by change in designing change from the very beginning, Axelrod recommends. “People support what they help to create. Involving people early in the change process avoids the need to ‘sell it’ later.” That makes engagement during the strategic planning process a very powerful approach to help ensure that the plan will actually be put into action and that results will be achieved.
  3. Provide autonomy. “When people know their voice counts they become engaged.”
  4. Support meaning making. “This means discussing questions such as: ‘What needs changing and why?,’ ‘What do you want to be different for you, for your co-workers and the organization?’” Energy is created when people find meaning in their work, he says.
  5. Challenge participants. Establish opportunities for participants to learn something new, to work with people they didn’t think they could work with or to “create greatness in their organization by achieving something they didn’t think was possible,” Axelrod suggests.

Don’t assume that your employees don’t want to be involved in planning—they likely do. While that doesn’t mean they need to attend every planning meeting or session, at a minimum they should be asked for input and kept informed along the way. After all, who, ultimately, will be required to do the work that will drive the ability to achieve the plan’s outcomes?

Interested in learning more? Here are the “Top 2018 Resolutions to Boost Employee Engagement.”