Want Employees to be More Engaged? Involve Them in Strategic Planning

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It’s no secret that employees are more engaged when they know their work is meaningful.

While providing clarity around organizational purpose doesn’t necessarily create grand meaning in life, it sure does give individual employees context for how their work fits into the big picture.

One way to provide such clarity is by involving employees at all levels of the organization in the strategic planning process.

There are many methods of strategic planning, but it’s generally an activity during which the big vision for the company and the plan to achieve it are developed. It’s also typically reserved for executives, with little to no input from employees.

What better way to communicate to employees that they have a voice and build organizational clarity than to engage employees in this process? Not only does this empower employees to be involved in guiding the direction of the company growth, it ensures they know — and are aligned around — the vision.

Provide a Framework

The standard practice is for executives to decide the direction and strategic goals of the company. Most often, these decisions are never communicated to the rest of the organization, or, they’re communicated in a piecemeal fashion through middle managers. This often results in employees simply going about their day and doing their jobs with no real context for how it fits into the big vision for the company.

What if instead, employees were asked for their feedback and that feedback was used to inform the decisions regarding company goals? It might sound daunting but it’s really just a matter of providing a framework, such as a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The information generated in the SWOT analysis can then be used to figure out which strategic issues to focus on.

There are other strategic planning frameworks, so simply pick the one that works best for your organization. You might even find that a combination of several is the answer.

Planning on a Regular Cadence

Once you decide on the right framework, the planning should be done on a regular cadence. This gets the entire organization thinking strategically.

For some organizations, once a year is sufficient. However, more frequent planning facilitates more agile action. In many cases, the current mission (which will likely take several years to achieve) might be established and quarterly planning used to set goals to support that mission.

Quarterly planning enables the organization to look at progress being made toward the goals. Rather than just having a plan for the entire year, the quarterly goal setting allows the organization to examine what’s working and what isn’t — and pivot when necessary.

Involving everyone in planning can be a challenge as departments and teams get bigger. And you certainly can’t shut down the company to ensure everyone participates.

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A potential solution to this challenge is to include different people, teams or departments in the process each quarter. While it means that not every voice will be heard every time, it guarantees that all will be able to contribute throughout the year.

Whatever the cadence, the key is providing space for everyone to be involved at some point during a single year.

Bubble up, not trickle down

Instead of strategic issues being decided based on an executive bird’s eye view of the organization, potential areas of focus bubble up from the bottom. The leadership challenge, then, is deciding what to prioritize.

Have each team suggest two or three areas of focus to present to leadership. While each team may be working on a SWOT separately, inevitably, themes will begin to emerge.

These themes give voice to what employees think the company needs to work on going forward, which leaders can use to inform their decision about which goals and strategies to prioritize going forward.

Align individual metrics with the “Big Vision”

Participating in the development of the “Big Vision” goes a long way to ensuring everyone is on the same page. The next piece of the puzzle is to connect the individual to that vision through performance metrics. The key here is to keep the vision or goals in mind and ensure the employee’s performance is being measured against how it fits into accomplishing those goals.

In the end, employees empowered to participate in planning are naturally more engaged because they have a voice in deciding which direction the company will go. This empowered voice also creates strong alignment across all levels of the organization around a shared purpose.

Kimberlee Morrison also writes frequently on the Infusionsoft Culture Corner blog. 


9 Comments on “Want Employees to be More Engaged? Involve Them in Strategic Planning

  1. You’re so right Kimberlee – employee engagement in strategy is crucial. At Sycol, we work primarily to help schools and encourage such distributed leadership in a number of ways. One of the simplest and most useful is for employees (together) to map the “the cultural health of the organisation” on a quarterly basis (a bit like a health-check!). This collaborative and fun activity is called “systems mapping” during which they decide whether each and every one of their organisational systems either delivers, or falls short of delivering, the organisation’s promise. It’s great and hugely powerful! A resultant spin-off is that everyone also gets knows about everything – transparency.

  2. This is an important concept – employees need to be involved in strategic planning. I would refine the assertion by saying employees must be involved at an appropriate level. In strategic planning, you are steering the ship of your business, and that means you don’t want every hand on the steering wheel. What you do want is input and commitment from people whose input is valuable and whose commitment is vital to success.
    There are very few definitive structures for doing this, but I would certainly recommend my book Simplified Strategic Planning for an approach that goes far beyond a SWOT analysis and leads to real action on critical strategic initiatives.

    1. Great point Robert. You’re absolutely right that too many hands on the wheel could lead to crash and burn. However, there’s something powerful in valuing input from all levels of the organization. And if a person isn’t committed, why would they even be on the bus?

      Of course company leadership makes the ultimate strategic decisions. If you only value input from people at the executive and/or managerial level, you could miss out on important issues from people who deal directly with the customers. It’s really a way to get many different perspectives with which to inform the strategic decision making process.

  3. Great post and spot on with our experience. I think Sandy Carter from IBM said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Connecting your employees (I prefer team) to your strategy is a critical part of building and strengthening your culture. It is truly the flywheel effect that Jim Collins talks about. SWOT is definitely one way, we have developed our own process we use ourselves and with our members and their companies and organizations. It is called i2a:Insights to Action and is modular which allows for engagement and alignment at different stages. I think the key takeaway is that you need to think about how you can engage your team in your strategy. Thanks for sharing!


    1. @twitter-14144238:disqus, I’ve never heard that quote about culture eating strategy for lunch. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Excellent article! Max De Pree, an American writer author of “Leadership is an Art” once said: “Not having the chance to make decisions within the organization in which one works is a great tragedy”.

    We are on a mission to solve this problem at my company (https://aftersear.ch) by providing for free a powerful tool that helps decisions makers within organizations to easily involve employees in the decision making process and get structured feedback from them. Congrats again for the article.

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