News: Only one in five CEOs satisfied with 2020 strategies

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COVID-19 made 2020 the year of the strategy pivot, and independent San Diego State University survey research commissioned by (X) shows how enterprise leaders are evaluating their pivots and providing lessons for improved strategy performance in 2021.

Data collected from more than 100 US CEOs, presidents and C-suite executives from small to large organizations across multiple industries showed how they feel about their enterprise strategy execution. The survey gauged leaders’ communication alignment with their business strategy. 

Only 22 per cent of C-level executives felt their enterprises were doing a good job with their strategic initiatives. The majority (66 per cent) said that the biggest obstacle to successful strategy execution was a lack of employee engagement, even though 79 per cent said that employee engagement was a big driver of their internal communication program. More than half reported that strong communication strategies played a role in their enterprise’s success in 2020. Furthermore, the majority of CEOs surveyed (57 per cent) agreed that successful enterprises link communication strategy with organizational strategy.

However, 39 per cent reported their internal communication was also strained by Covid-19. The degree to which strong communication helped enterprises succeed in 2020 correlated significantly with whether an enterprise used consultants: 68 per cent of CEOs who reported using consultants attributed strong communication to their success compared to 50 per cent who don’t use consultants. 

“Strategy is crafted by few and implemented by many. Getting and keeping employees more engaged through supporting communication could go a long way in helping the 78 per cent of CEOs who aren’t feeling good about their strategic initiatives,” said (W)right On Communications CEO Grant Wright. “This is why we partnered with Excelerate to create (X), a solution to help organizations wring more shareholder ROI out of their initiatives. Senior leaders know strategy implementation, and internal and external communication need to be tightly linked, but our research also revealed some gaps, fragmentation and resource issues, with Covid-19 creating a strain.”

The data suggests best practices for upcoming communication strategy for Q1 of 2021. As organizations reflect on their 2020 pivots and 2021 plans, the report finds that it’s essential that a comprehensive and integrated communication plan flow from and support the overall enterprise strategy, both internally to engage employees and externally to engage customers, communities, regulators, shareholders and other outside stakeholders.

“Execution of key strategies is always difficult,” said Jana De Anda, president of Excelerate. “The realities businesses faced in 2020 drove even more complexity in getting key initiatives to the finish line. And with the majority of CEOs reporting that their employee engagement is such a big obstacle to their success, it illustrates the importance of connecting strategic planning and implementation with excellent internal communication just as much as external.”

The report concluded that “If strong communication is a hallmark of a successful enterprise, as 79 per cent of C-level executives agree, and failure is not an option, then leaders need to focus more on communication to inspire employees to support the strategy and ensure alignment across all departments, regions and business units. By doing so, they will not only improve their resilience during the pandemic but also position their organizations for more successful strategic outcomes in 2021.”

The survey was conducted by the Broom Center at San Diego State University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies and sponsored by (X), an enterprise strategy execution and communication consultancy formed by partners (W)right On Communications and Excelerate. It examined the strategic planning and implementation and communication practices of enterprises during the Covid-19 pandemic.