to share or not to share

Once a firm has gone through the long, involved, collaborative and coordinated process of strategic planning, one of the next questions firm management asks itself is, “How much of this should we publicize and in what level of detail?”  I have a few opinions about this issue that are based on a few assumptions.

Assumption 1: Everyone who works at your firm is actively engaged in and is committed to the firm’s success.

I hope you can make this assumption about your firm. This is not to say that everyone in the firm behaves as if they own the place.  Different kinds of staff have different reasons for committing to the firm’s success.  Some do it simply to ensure their paycheck keeps coming and raises and promotions have the potential to keep happening.  Some do it because they truly see themselves as owners, or hope one day to have equity, and want to see their investment grow.  Regardless, I assume the vast majority of your staff want to see the firm succeed.

Assumption 2: Those who work at your firm respect that some of the information shared with them is confidential and know when it is.

I prefer to believe that most of my colleagues are and generally behave as adults and thus, when you tell us something is confidential, we can hear and respect that.  Hopefully your firm has this kind of culture.

Assumption 3: You encourage and expect your staff to hold you accountable for making progress toward the goals identified through strategic planning.

In my personal opinion, accountability is a two-way street.  I expect those who work for me to be accountable for meeting their responsibilities and I expect them to hold me accountable for meeting mine.  I also think it’s in everyone’s best interest to know that those working “on the firm” have a sense of direction and clear, measurable goals, just as those working “at the firm” have clear, measurable goals for their projects.

Now that the assumptions are out of the way, how should you share your strategic plan?  Here’s what I would recommend:

1) Find a way to communicate the highlights of the plan in a way that achieves the broadest possible distribution among your staff.  This might be via e-mail, via an all-staff meeting, or via team meetings within working groups.  The goal is to ensure that the broadest possible cross section of your employees has a “30,000 square foot view” of where you are taking the firm and why.  The vast majority of people will be satisfied to know you have a plan and to have a general sense of the highlights.

2) Have a full and complete draft of your strategic plan available in writing somewhere that your employees can read/review and let them know the details are for employees’ eyes only. Maybe this is your intranet site; maybe it’s simply in binder in the library.  Very few of your staff will take the time to read through the entire plan, but those who do are usually those most committed to the firm’s success or most interested in leadership roles.  It’s worth knowing who these folks are.

3) Have a vehicle for questions and clarifications. My favorite Murphy’s Law says, “It’s impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.”  What this really means is, there is no perfect way to communicate.  No matter how clearly you think you have articulated something, there will be someone who will interpret your words differently.   Accept and embrace this truth and plan accordingly.


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