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Jan 25, 2013

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.

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.