87- Local government strategy implementation. Myth 3: Communication equals understanding.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              240 words


This is the third post in a series of five. The first post discussed the myth that strategy execution equals alignment and the second post covered the myth that strategy execution means sticking to the plan.

Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull say that many executives believe that ‘relentlessly communicating strategy is a key to success’. They suggest that checking whether staff are ‘clear on the organisation’s top priorities’ is less useful than asking them to describe the organisation’s strategy in their own words and to list the top five priorities.

This would be an interesting exercise in local government where the ‘strategy’ is not always clear.  Strategy can mean different things.  It can be the ‘strategic position’ taken by an organisation in response to customer or community service demands (i.e. its relationship to its market). It can also be the ‘strategic approach’ the organisation adopts in doing the work necessary to meet those service demands (i.e. thinking long term and holistically). And it can be a documented ‘strategic plan’ with actions to move from the current state to another preferred state (i.e. a roadmap). Often these definitions are used interchangeably.

An additional problem identified by the authors is that strategic priorities are not only poorly understood but they often ‘seem unrelated to one another and disconnected from the overall strategy’. This feeling is not uncommon in local government. They believe that part of the explanation is that communication is measured in terms of inputs (the number of times something has been communicated in different ways) instead of outcomes (how well do people understand what has been communicated). Again, this is not uncommon in local government either.  It is easier to measure inputs – ‘I told them about it!’ 

In the next post: Myth 4: A performance culture drives execution.

Sull, Donald, Homkes, Rebecca, and Sull, Charles 2015. ‘Why Strategy Execution Unravels – and What to Do About it’, Harvard Business Review, March.