The importance of strategy Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Business strategies are often created to solve a problem or to save time or money. But company strategies are often created by CEOs or business owners in a vacuum, with little input from the employees that the strategy will ultimately impact.

“If management doesn’t bring in people who are close to the problem, the strategy often doesn’t work,” says Brenda Harris, President and Chief Operating Officer of Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston. “You need buy-in from the people who are close to the problem if a business strategy is going to stick.”

Smart Business spoke with Harris about the benefits of bringing employees to the table to create business strategies that are consistent and solve problems.

Could you give an example of a typical business strategy that is directed from the top down, without input from employees?

Most of the business strategies that are issued from the top down are ones that save money or time, but the CEO or business owner who creates these new business strategies often fails to see how it will affect people on a day-to-day basis. It could be a simple change, such as giving out paychecks at a slightly later time on Friday, to convenience management to wholesale changes in company policy, such as reworking vacation or sick-time policies.

Why is it important to get input from employees?

Because oftentimes, changes in policy directly affect how employees do their jobs. Changes in policy issued from the top down, without any say by the workers themselves, can decrease productivity, create resentment and even negatively effect retention. And, CEOs also need to realize that they don’t have all the good ideas. Of course, there are some business decisions that can’t be put out there and are at the discretion of the CEO or business owner, but decisions that affect the way people do their jobs — or feel about their jobs — do need to be bounced off of employees in various departments.

How can a CEO or business owner get employee input?

The best strategy is to create a task force of key employees to look at the new business strategy. Create a time frame to allow the task force to find facts and come up with a recommendation or revisions to the strategy. This must be a very open process where dissenting opinions are heard and acknowledged. The task force can also make recommendations as to how the business strategy can best be implemented. This improves credibility with your workers and is an opportunity for employees to gain recognition once their ideas are implemented.

Could you give an example of how this might work?

We wanted to change from issuing paychecks to giving employees a pay card, which would be deposited with the appropriate funds every week. We wanted to do this for a number of reasons, including convenience and cost/time savings of printing and distributing checks. We also thought it would be a better alternative for our temporary employee staff who had to come into the office every week to get their checks. For us, in management, it made sense all around.

However, the idea was met with resistance among employees, perhaps because it was new and unknown. We decided to set up a task force consisting of employees who were for the idea as well as those who were against it. The task force’s job was to learn about the pay card system, explain it to employees, get their feedback and report back to management with the pros and cons of the new payment system. By the way, even the people who were dead set against it ended up seeing the positive aspects of the system, and it was adopted in our company.

What if the task force decides not to implement a business strategy?

Management, of course, does have the final say. But the task force has a chance to make a persuasive argument about the reasons why a business strategy would be a bad move for the company. In many cases, the task force is seeing things that management cannot.

However, there may be times that the CEO or business owner sees the bigger picture that the task force does not. For example, task force members might find that they do not want to make certain cost-cutting changes in their departments. But the CEO or business owner knows that those dollars add up to significant savings across the entire company at the end of the year. That is the advantage of having both the employees’ point of view as well as the CEO’s.

BRENDA HARRIS is President and Chief Operating Officer of Talent Tree, www.talenttree.com, a staffing company based in Houston. Reach her at (713) 789-1818 or Brenda.harris@talenttree.com.