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President and CEO, BlueShore Financial.

Only a fraction of the workplace understands the strategy their CEO is talking about. Even in high-performing companies, only 29 per cent of employees are able to correctly identify their company’s strategy. This can be disastrous for an organization’s bottom-line and impact employee engagement long-term.

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Leaders need to bridge this gap by ensuring employees understand the strategy, but they also need to ignite employee passion. Nietzsche said, “People will do almost any what … if you give them a good why.”

In my experience, it is critical to develop a strong strategy and a clear vision, share it effectively and then empower your team to launch it – only then will you see your vision flourish. Here are three lessons I’ve learned in getting employees fired up about strategy.

Bring the strategy to life

We have all played the kids’ group game of telephone and know how quickly a message can be distorted. As it’s whispered along, its accuracy and meaning diverge completely from the original.

Similarly, leaders that rely on solely explaining their strategy to their executive team will run the risk of diluting the message to employees or creating total misunderstandings. Leaders that communicate only with their executive team have already failed to make strategy meaningful to their employees. Further, each level in a company hears the same message differently, largely based on what’s in it for them.

Communicate clearly, directly and consistently. Avoid hierarchical communication at all costs, especially when it comes to important strategic information. Making strategy meaningful to all employees is easier to execute when leaders consider bottom-up strategies to get buy-in.

One approach to consider is to host annual all-staff meetings where your employees receive the same message at the same time on what will drive your company forward. At BlueShore, we host an annual staff meeting, complemented by regular fireside chats with executives in intimate, face-to-face sessions with staff from various departments. Direct face-time should be an integral tool in the communications arsenal that includes regular e-mail communications, intranet updates as well as video messages.

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A powerful leadership tool is to have five core and reinforcing messages at the ready, but only repeat and reaffirm the top three messages for the right audience at the right time. The five areas I always have a key inspirational strategic message about are where customers, employees, technology, projects and financials will take us.

Tap into legitimacy over authority

Legitimacy will take a business leader further than authority ever will. It is the lifeblood, the Chemical X ingredient that will determine how employees react and commit to the business strategy. Being known as consistent and dependable is key to achieving legitimacy, and way more critical than always being right. Employees need to know where you stand, and on what values, without having to ask. Otherwise you get cynicism, the poison of culture. Cynicism can spread when leaders leave legitimate questions unanswered. The toughest questions I get are anonymous zingers on our employee portal, which I duly answer and publish. Addressing such questions creates common understanding and belief, and those same employees with challenging questions can become advocates. It also can address underlying fears.

What drives the team will drive the vision

Leaders need to inspire as much as inform. Sharing the business vision and value proposition with employees is critical, but inspiring belief and action is equally important. At BlueShore, our value proposition is improving our clients’ overall financial wellness and making this happen is dependent on what we call TnT (talent and technology). We communicate this to our employees constantly and consistently. Our employees own the strategy and we empower them to form and implement it. They understand, believe in and deliver on it everyday. The Four Seasons is another prime example of employees feeling they have ownership of the value proposition. The company has built an unparalleled customer experience that has remained consistent due in large part to employees understanding and delivering a five-star experience.

To inspire and create a winning team, good coaches play to the strengths and passions of individual players. To uncover the best from your employees, you need to foster both their individual strengths and their motivations. As a leader, forget the individual’s job description and provide them with opportunities to create and contribute to things they excel at and are motivated by.

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Demonstrating that you believe in your teammates solidifies trust and inspires. We have implemented a Velcro management style that is cohesive but can be easily ripped and rearranged when the circumstances change. In times of strategic necessity, an organization can benefit from this flexible arrangement to leverage the skills and passions of employees.

An example of this is our CIO, who manages our technology strategy, but has an artistic background as a musician with a funky, creative eye. So when we were looking to design a new head office and bank branches that were unlike any other, our CIO masterminded the branch design.

As such, we were the first to create the Financial Spa – banking branches thoughtfully designed to create an environment that calms and relaxes yet sets the stage for a productive and engaging discussion.

His new-found passion in architectural design made him the perfect leader to spearhead the project. If the opportunity arises, a leader should demonstrate trust in employees by allowing them to innovative and exercise their strengths. Velcro management means they can always go back to their daily routine – but do not miss the fleeting chance to let your eagles soar.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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