Employee Engagement and Strategy Execution: A Real Example


It’s January in London. It’s cold, overcast and rainy almost every day. And besides that, at a latitude of 52 degrees North, darkness falls around 4pm, making it seem even colder. The perfect time of year for the boiler and central heating to stop working! Which is what happened at our house a few days ago. No central heating and no hot water for showers.

So, a quick call to British Gas, with whom we have a heating and boiler service contract, and the engineer knocked on the door a few hours later, ready to fix and service our heating system.  The good news is, he had it cleaned, serviced and up and running in under two hours, plus he took the time to explain to me exactly how the whole system functions and even offered to help me adjust the timer system for maximum energy efficiency.

So far, a good news story in customer service! But what came next was an excellent example in strategy execution.

Some Backstory Required

In my recent book, FASTBREAK, The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, I begin by teasing out the many hidden reasons why most strategies fail to be fully delivered.  In fact, many studies have pointed out that 70% of business plans and strategies fail to deliver intended results.  I say hidden reasons because outside of such obvious reasons as faulty strategic assumptions or lack of adequate funding, there are numerous non-obvious strategy derailers:

  • Deployment is usually an afterthought rather than an integral part of strategy formulation
  • Corporate culture can be a major barrier to effective strategic execution
  • Governance of strategic initiatives is notoriously lacking
  • Poor teamwork at the top and “Silo Focus” leads to suboptimization
  • Too many “disconnected” initiatives which increase costs and waste time
  • Less than 5% of employees understand the strategic vision or strategic plan, resulting in lack of employee engagement.

When employees don’t understand or are unaware of the overall business strategy, how can they be expected to come up with ideas and opportunities to move the strategy forward?  It’s like having an army of 10,000 but not giving them any guns or ammunition!

Knowledge Leads to Engagement Which Leads to Execution

So here I am standing in my hallway chatting with the British Gas call-out repair man, who is definitely not a college graduate or an engineer. Being the curious sort I ask him about the recent new developments in digital temperature control systems, and since I am a user of Apple technology products, I ask about the new Nest thermostat.  We both agreed that digital is a future home technology whose time has come and we also agree that the Nest is an aesthetically beautiful and functionally designed.

But then he blew me away with his understanding of the British Gas business strategy by checkouthero2-80a79d88c586e53b44a9fa9297e8a10estating that their competing product, The Hive, is not only a home heating controller, but the beginnings of a digital controller for the home with the potential to link smart devices inside the home through one single hub. He also said that rather than buy it at the store, if I were to purchase the Hive from him, he is authorised to sell and install it for half the store price.

When I asked why the “deal”, he replied, “Actually, sir, it’s part of our company strategy to install as many as possible, not only because they are as good or better than the Nest, but because it then sets up our long-term strategy of helping  you connect and manage your entire home digitally, all through our Hive hub and the new products we are developing for the smart home.  Plus it fulfills our vision of helping build a sustainable business, reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases!”

What really impressed me was the more he spoke about the overall British Gas home digitization strategy, the more energised and animated he became.  The strategy made sense to him, he understood the logic and the value for the customer. Here was a fully engaged employee!

When you send your employees out to deal with customers and clients without a clear understanding of company strategy, no wonder your strategy falls short.  Executives don’t deliver strategy, employees do!

Posted by:

John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

email: john@johnrchildress.com

PS: John also writes thriller novels

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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1 Response to Employee Engagement and Strategy Execution: A Real Example

  1. Michael McNally says:

    Easily the best example I’ve heard of in a long time that focuses on the number one reason why the best of organizations take the time and bear the expense of informing/educating their employees about the organization’s strategy and what it means to them individually … especially those (but not limited to) employees who are customer facing!
    Thank you!


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