Gain engagement and buy-in through a strategy launch

Marketing and Leadership

Think of the last time you bought a product you were very excited about. Maybe it was the iPhone 6 with its sleeker look, improved features and screen size that forces you to buy pants with bigger pockets. Maybe it was the Lululemon yoga pants that are comfortable and stylish at the same time. Or maybe it was the new driver that you think will help your golf game and knock a couple of strokes of your handicap. What did you feel when you bought those items?  Probably a sense of excitement, a sense of anticipation and maybe even a sense of pride and emotional attachment

Now, let me ask you how you felt that last time you were exposed to the strategy of your organization. Did it feel similar to some of the emotions triggered above? Or did it feel more like that class in college with the really boring professor … where you tried to retain just enough information to pass the test or sound intelligent if called upon? If it is the latter, you are unfortunately not alone. Engaging employees in strategies is simple not done well in many companies. Yet these same companies are often great at launching new products or services to their customers.

A lot can be gleaned by how we launch products and services effectively and applying it to how we launch and implement our strategies. I believe it is one of the most cost effective ways to improve organizational performance available to companies today.

Strategy Product Launch

Invest In ALL Your Launches
Launching a new product is a high stakes venture for most organizations. Significant dollars are invested in market research to determine the viability and market potential of the product. Many meetings are held and focus groups conducted to determine what resonates with end users and how the product should be priced, promoted and distributed. From the executive team, to the product development and marketing departments to the sales and digital teams – everyone has a role and a job to do to ensure a successful launch and sustained interest from customers. To get it right and give the new product the best chance for success, it’s all encompassing and all hands are most definitely on deck.

So, my question to you is – why don’t we invest the same type of time, energy and manpower when we launch and implement a new company-wide strategy or a division initiative? The stakes in terms of financial impact are often just as high if not higher. But for some reason when the audience is our internal employees rather than our customers, we lose our intense level of rigor, passion and commitment. And yet we often wonder why “our strategy product” failed to sell and is not making the difference we hoped for.  What I’m getting at is that at most organizations a company-wide launch of a new initiative or strategy typically doesn’t involve nearly the level of planning, commitment and discipline that goes into a product launch. We don’t seek to understand our customers, in this case our employees, and determine how they think about the strategy, what resonates with them and what it would take to have them embrace and “buy it” like we would want customers to buy our product. To most employees, strategies come across as products that they either don’t fully understand, don’t have an emotional connection to or something they need to buy because it is their job. It feels to them like THAT college class where they simply want to pass rather than it being something they are proud to be associated with and want to contribute discretionary energy to bring to life. No wonder that more than 70% of most workforces in companies are somewhere between indifferent and disengaged.

Now think about the last time your company rolled out a new corporate wide strategy? What went into that rollout? How was your company’s culture considered in the rollout? And what about the many sub-cultures that exist in organizations? If it was like many of the strategy deployments I’ve been involved in at other companies over the years, it probably went something like this:

  • The CEO and leadership team signed off on a strategy – likely with the help of a consulting firm with a bunch of smart, well-educated consultants that look really good in suits.
  • The strategy is announced and shared in a town hall meeting or webcast. Most likely in a power point format preceded possibly by a 90 second video to fire everyone up.
  • Maybe there was a follow-up communication that went out to the whole company reinforcing some of the key points that the CEO discussed.
  • Some training was given to the department that was going to have the biggest impact on that strategy – in most cases, the sales team.
  • Then people were probably largely on their own and also ready to move past the launch to get back to their real jobs.

Now, there are varying incarnations of company strategy rollouts. However, in all likelihood, they don’t involve the time and effort that companies put into a product launch. Or more importantly, the time and attention needed to really make it work and achieve the results you seek.

A lot of brands work hard to ensure that their people understand the strategy, connect to it and build
the skills to execute organizational objectives. But, they’re missing a huge opportunity to “market” the strategy to their employees. You only launch something once. It’s a critical time – the first opportunity for leaders to get their people behind the new strategy – to get their buy-in, drive excitement and ensure adoption of the strategy. It’s time to put on your marketing hats. It’s not just about a PowerPoint or company-wide memo … it takes more effort in order to make your strategy go from paper to reality.

4 Ways to Launch Your Strategy Like the Brand New Product It Is
So, tactically speaking, what can we learn from our product launches and apply it to our strategy launches?

#1: Understand your customers’ mindsets, desires and needs. Study and work with your employee base to understand how they think about the business, what they understand and where they struggle, what they are curious about and what would be helpful to them to better connect their jobs to the strategy.

#2: Segment your customers. You will likely find that the communication and engagement needs vary based on the function or seniority of your people. While there needs to be a common view all can share about where the company is going, are you clear on how you customize the message to maximize its relevance and adoption? Just like with a product launch, different segments likely value different attributes of your product and understanding that is a smart thing to do.

#3: Create emotional connections. Most customer purchases are not a perfectly intellectualized decision making process. The willingness to buy is often driven by emotion. How do I feel about the brand or company? How did they engage with me? What do I feel when I associate with the product? These same questions apply when deploying strategies –finding emotional ways to connect is essential. This can be done through effective storytelling of the strategy and the impact it can have and creating opportunities for people to engage with the strategy in a meaningful way.

#4: Continue listening and refining. Like any good product launch, you study how much your product is being sold, who is buying it and who isn’t … and what messages are resonating and which aren’t. The same should hold for your strategy. As you deploy it, you have the opportunity to not only learn what does and does not resonate, but you will likely also get insight about what parts of your strategy actually work effectively and which should be refined.

Your ultimate goal is to bring the strategy to life and to sell it in a way that your employees actually buy it. To authentically embrace it. They can’t implement it just because it’s their job … if they don’t believe in your strategy, it’s doomed. On the flip side, if you’re able to apply these product launch tactics successfully to a strategy launch, you will see it positively impact business results, positively impact your financial objective and ultimately make a profound impact on the success of your organization.

Have you applied any product launch principles to your strategy launch? I’d love to hear about it!  Please comment below and share this content with others.

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Rich Berens is President and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. For more than a decade, Rich has helped leaders at Fortune 1000 organizations to align on key strategic imperatives and engage their people in bringing their strategies to life. His clients span all industries and include Petco, Bank of America, Hilton Hotels, Procter & Gamble, Deutsche Bank, and Merillat/Masco, among many others.
In addition to consulting with clients, Rich oversees the integration of all business lines for Root. In 2001, he launched Root’s Digital Interactive Solutions Group, which now accounts for 30% of the firm’s total revenue. In 2005, Rich partnered with Root’s CEO, Jim Haudan, to develop a Strategic Engagement Process based on their combined years of experience in the field. This process is featured in Root’s best-selling book, The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.