top of page

Seven communication rules for strategy implementation

company townhall

After many months of strategy building, data analysis, workshops and working with external consultants, the executive team finally delivers a strategy for the next three years. But the initial enthusiasm quickly fades and a year later very little has come of the plan.

The team is relieved after finally delivering the strategic plan. They can finally fully concentrate on the day-to-day business again. The team soon has to deal with setbacks that demand all attention for a while. Employees have not heard from management since kick-off and are beginning to question the sincerity of leadership.


And as time passes, organizational resistance grows. Gradually, the organization's faith in the new direction begins to show cracks and even the executive team begins to lose enthusiasm. Earlier disagreements are now starting to take hold again in the process. Soon, most of the once promising strategy will be clinically dead. This is not a business fairytale story, but a real-life example.


Executing a strategy is one of the most difficult tasks for an organization. A major reason why organizations struggle is because communication is often overlooked. Strategy communication is critical to successful transformation and, when done right, can be an incredibly effective tool for leaders to connect strategy, market, and how teams internally perceive vision and choices.


In short: seven tips for leaders for effective strategy communication.


1. Take the organization on your mental journey


In the example above, management involved the organization when the strategy had already been determined. The leadership had gone through a rational and emotional process for months. Each member had made the choices their own and accepted the compromises. It was clear to them what had to be done and how.


However, they had forgotten to take the organization with them on their journey. So when the leaders enthusiastically talked about the future, the rest of the organization was only at the beginning of the process. The management began to get annoyed by the inflexible and critical attitude of employees. After all, they were losing momentum! The reality was that management never bothered to create a decisive moment. After all, if an executive team takes months to align, it will take at least a year to align the entire organization.


A few town halls or video conferences won't solve that. So start communicating as soon as you start your strategic process. Share what needs to be solved, share timelines, challenges and opportunities. For example, feed the organization with small decisions that you can already share, so that you already have the employees reasonably on board when you present the full plan.


2. Storytelling


It sounds obvious, but if people don't remember what you've communicated, you've accomplished nothing. The best way people "store" information is by telling stories. The way to transfer information dates back to the time when we were still walking around in bear skins: storytelling.


Modern people also remember information better if it is served in an attractive way, with a lot of tension, such as external threats (competition) and conflicts (challenges). The protagonist (the organization) overcomes these challenges by making smart choices. A book or film leaves enough open for the reader or viewer and does not give away the plot. It's much more interesting when not everything is served on a silver platter. Let the listener find his own place in the story. Think of it this way: instead of telling them the answer is six, give them the two plus two plus two. It keeps people hungry for more information.


3. The meaning of communication is the response you get


Is there a difference between a strategic plan and communication of the strategic plan? Yes there is. The strategic plan is the sum of the rational choices the leadership team makes to execute their vision and drive the necessary transformation. It is a high-level agreed framework of priorities and principles, on the basis of which budgets and resources are allocated.


In contrast, the ultimate goal of communication is simply to evoke the desired response from your audience: in terms of emotion and behavior and in accordance with the strategy needs. It is very difficult to be the strategy architect and construct a good story at the same time.


So always make sure you have a good storyteller on board during strategy development. Because if you want to make your story credible, your decisions will also have to be as coherent as possible with your message, .


4. Don't Ignore Sentiment: Context and History


Unless you are a startup, every company has a (long) history of successes and failures. The perception you have of the organization as a leader is guaranteed to be different from that of the rest of management and employees.


While strategic choices should not be dictated by internal sentiment, communication and how you organize implementation should be. Ignoring your audience's past experiences, fears, or expectations will only lead to rejection. For example, a common mistake in an acquisition is to place too much emphasis on the growth of the new company at the expense of the acquired party. Or putting new employees and younger staff on a pedestal, making 'older' staff feel like they are part of 'history'. This creates resentment and indifference in key parts of the organization. You are in fact undermining your own strategy.


5. Break the groupthink


The desire for harmony can result in irrational or dysfunctional decision making in an executive team. This leads the group to minimize conflict and reach a consensus without critical evaluation. That works fine in that group and progresses nicely, but as soon as the strategy is introduced outside, employees or customers chop the plan into pieces.


A good solution is to introduce a 'friendly opposition' into the team during the development and implementation of the strategy. Someone who plays an outsider role (and represents employees, customers and stakeholders), someone who challenges the status quo: an independent thinker who addresses controversial issues, proposes alternative solutions and can stimulate creativity. Not only will it provide a much more exciting, relevant and engaging story, but it will also have a cathartic effect on strategy development.


6. Plan for short-term successes for morale


A business strategy is, by definition, a long-term strategy. It takes endurance and determination to bring about the desired structural change. And that can sometimes take years. But our attention span isn't that long. To maintain morale and confidence, it is important to hold the attention of the organization. Here, too, we can lend a neighborhood loan to the film industry.


In every good thriller, the detective gets closer to the whodunit by unraveling all sorts of complex connections. Don't forget the fixed ingredients such as chases, affairs, or surprising plot twists. Keeping your attention is the motto. One way to apply this in a business context is to break big projects into smaller steps and celebrate successive wins. It is even stronger to consciously plan communication around investments and successes at regular intervals and to choose projects that have a highly visible impact.


Remember that it's not the size of the projects, but the story you tell with them that matters.


7. Listen for yourself


Perhaps listening is the least practiced communication skill of senior leadership. We schedule Zoom meetings and town halls because we feel the urge to communicate. We rely on middle management, HR or on surveys to collect feedback from the organization and we hire communication professionals to create communication content. But we often don't take the time to sit down and really listen on a human-to-human level.


The simple fact is that every time we do that, we are confronted with the reality of how the organization actually feels about the strategy. Schedule two hours a week with no agenda and just listen. I promise you that the information is always valuable and prevents your plan from going to the trash.


After reading, are you interested in what else you can do to make your strategy succeed? Please feel free to contact


Erwin Zijlstra is director of WhatMatterZ and has been an advisor to boards and personal advisor to CEOs in the field of strategy development and execution, reputation and strategic communication for 20 years. His clients range from Dutch small and medium-sized businesses to internationally listed organisations.  

bottom of page