Why Good Strategies Fail: How Much Do Your Employees Really Care?

How much do your employees REALLY care about what your organization is doing? (Photo illustration by Dreamstime).

There are many reasons that good strategies fail.

They range from poor communication, lack of alignment, difficulty with change, underestimating resources required, failing to train people, running out of time.

But at the heart of all these things is: How much do your employees care?

If your employees don’t personally care about what you are trying to do, it’s not likely to get done well, on time, or at all.

Give your people a reason to care

Here’s a good example: The dreaded Mission Statement.

You are probably already rolling your eyes at the thought of this.

This can become one of the most draining, irritating, and lame activities you can engage a management team in, and often results in a statement that reads something like:

To be the leading provider of the most innovative products in our space, with outstanding customer service, and the most efficient operations, therefore maximizing shareholder value.

OK employees…Now, hop to it! (yeah, right.)

The trick is to actually care

If you want a mission that employees care about and can act on, the trick is to start with something you actually care about.

When I work with management teams on this, we start with the question “What do you personally care about? Why are you here?”

Your employees will never care if your executives don’t. Your team won’t care if you don’t.

You don’t need to call it a mission statement, but you do need to stand for something and care about something for real if you want your people to spring into action, solve problems for you, and drive the momentum you need in your business.

Here are three things you can do:

1. Define your strategy in terms people CAN care about.

If you care about customer service and believe that it is a competitive advantage then say so, and ask for help.

We are going to provide a level of personalized customer service for our products that is so good that our customers are shocked by it. We believe this is our key competitive opportunity. Providing outrageous levels of service compared to the industry will grow our business, and we will be profitable doing it.

Now you can ask your employees to start solving this puzzle for you. It gives them something dig into. It gives them a way to engage. It gives them something that they can care about too.

2. Talk about why you are here.

Why, personally are you here? At this company? In this organization? What are you trying to do? Why does it matter to you? What are your values as a leader and as a human?

If you are willing to share your core values, your employees will care more.

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You are giving them a basis to support you. When they talk about work at the dinner table, YOU are the company, much more than anything else is.

If you stand for something they can care about, they will care. If you only ever talk about projects and schedules, there is nothing for them to personally connect with or care about.

3. Talk about what excellence means to you, and why?

What is it that makes you proud of what you and your team delivers? What is most important to YOU that your business stands for and shows the world?

Is it innovation? Is it service? Is it quality? Is it an externally validated proof that you are the best? What embarrasses you? What do you believe is wrong that other companies do? Why?

If you want your employees to step up, they need to understand why it matters.

So many managers struggle to get their employees to work at the same level of competence and quality that they personally deliver. Your employees will never care about rising to your level of excellence unless you really show them why it’s personally important to you to operate at this level of excellence.

What if  YOU don’t care?

If you don’t really care about your work or your company, if you are only there because you need the money, remember, while they are paying you, it is your job to lead, so it is your job to find something you can care about.

If you don’t like the product, care about the way the company treats people. If you don’t care about the company, care about the customers.

I’ve been here. Believe me, it’s better to find something to care about than it is to check out. You are way more likely to get yourself into a better job later, (and maintain your sanity) if you keep caring about something along the way.

If you don’t genuinely care about something, you employees will not deliver for you.

Your strategy can be great, but if your employees don’t give a damn, your chances of executing go out the window.

This article was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership blog.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .