Strategies that are launched with a complex presentation and “cascaded” down the ranks are bound to fail. We no longer live in a world of tops-down, hierarchical organizations where employees just execute instructions. Our teams are creative and empowered, and we need to connect with them as humans, appealing to their wants and needs as we develop a shared vision of where we seek to go. Here are five ways to integrate best practices from human-centered design to engage audiences at a gut level and move your strategy forward, together.

We’ve all dreaded it – the 150-page PowerPoint defining our next corporate strategy, jammed with charts, graphs, market analysis, and recommended actions. Somewhere in that heap is the real story of where we want to go, and how we’ll get there. The problem is most strategic plans are written by experts, for experts. Yet, in all their planning they fail to address the needs of their most critical audience: the people that will ultimately execute the strategy.

Inevitably, these presentations leave their audiences with more questions than answers, rather than moving them to action. Ultimately, 80% of these strategies fail – principally because we fail to consider the primary consideration to succeed: How do we motivate people to do something different next week than the way they used to do it?

What’s missing is something we designers build our practice around: The lessons of human-centered design. We need to consider the humans in the system of executing strategy, empathize with their wants, needs, and barriers to change, and then build our strategic plans to include and address these considerations.

As you embark on any strategic planning process and share the results with your teams, consider including these five elements into your work to ensure you’ve considered the needs of your “user”—the human being on your team that you will depend on to execute your strategy:

  1. Identify and empathize with your “user”: who are the people that you will ultimately rely upon to execute your strategy, and what are their wants, needs, concerns, and motivations? Map the key audiences—our Who/Do exercise can help with this—and identify their most important concerns and topics. Address them.
  2. Define the case for change. For each audience that you identify, develop a narrative around the “case for change.” Why isn’t the current way we’re doing things effective? Why do we need to do things differently in the future?
  3. Define the vision. With your case for change defined, develop a clear vision of the future when this strategy is successfully implemented: What will it look like, why is it better than today, and how will it positively impact the key stakeholders?
  4. Define the desired user journey. Often strategies define the “what” without addressing the “how.” Humans are less likely to embark on a journey without understanding the roadmap from here to there. Develop and visualize a clear roadmap of how the strategy will be executed, and the roles and responsibilities along the path. Most people will only support one or a few segments of the overall strategy journey, so showing people clearly where they fit will allow them to better grasp what’s expected of them without being overwhelmed by the entire strategy.
  5. Define what success looks like. For each segment of the strategy journey, make clear what the definition of success is, at an individual or team level. If people have a clear line of sight to the role they play in the overall strategy, and what success looks like, it will empower them to plan their work and participation while making space for creativity and innovation in achieving the goal.

Ultimately, to execute strategy successfully we need to become good storytellers. We need to understand our audience: What they want and need and shape a clear narrative that engages them in a journey that they will want to take. It seems obvious to designers and storytellers, but it’s time for strategy leaders to add best practices from the human-centered design toolkit to their strategic planning and launch programs. It will increase the chance that strategies turn into execution and accelerate results.

Additional Tools and Resources

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