Want to Make Your Strategy Stick? Make it a Behavior

Lofty directives don’t help. Specific behaviors do, making it easier for employees to follow through.

Leaders need to consider a broader set of actions, not only to make their strategies more effective but to help better engage employees too.

As a leader, you are defining a new set of priorities and getting ready to roll them out to your organization. The strategy is rooted in research, thoughtfully shaped and ready to take off. Or, you’re responding to the quick shifts of the current environment – finding ways to keep your employees safe while delivering value in new ways for customers. But what do you really need to make these strategies stick?

In his book, Simplicity, Bill Jensen outlines what his extensive research revealed about the questions employees ask when given an assignment. Of course, questions like “What exactly do you want me to do?” “What does it have to do with my job?” “How will I be measured?” and “What’s in it for me?” are standard. However, the most important question employees have may surprise you: “What tools and resources are available to me?”

In this period of rapid change – well-defined behaviors can be that employee engagement tool for your organization. While investments that require greater development take time to implement, clearly defined behaviors can inspire and guide transformation both within and beyond the pandemic. This doesn’t mean over-prescribing behaviors for every initiative, but rather linking a core set of guiding behaviors to priorities and making them actionable in daily contexts.

What makes for clearly defined employee behaviors? Behaviors should align to a business strategy or purpose, specific to individuals and teams and their roles. These behaviors should allow for flexibility and judgment while being measurable. Leadership behaviors can define ways to enable teams to live out company values. For example, they can specifically encourage adding a diversity of employee voices in key projects. Behaviors for frontline employees may include actions around service – opening the door for customers entering, or safety, wiping surfaces down after each interaction.

Think about your latest strategy and its objectives – how are you making it real for your organization and employees? What tools and resources are you equipping your teams to leverage? Specifically, what employee behaviors are you encouraging that reinforce said objectives?

“Behaviors should align to a business strategy or purpose, specific to individuals and teams and their roles.”

Prophet recently worked with a telecommunications provider committed to deepening relationships with customers. But in challenging settings like call centers where individuals have to solve issues quickly, “deepening relationships” would be far too broad of a directive. In partnership with the provider, Prophet helped define three core behaviors that employees could exhibit in any conversation. These behaviors weren’t mandatory scripts, rather a playbook to help make the strategy more concrete for the learner and measurable for the organization. We then applied these behaviors across various high-priority touchpoints to make them even stickier for the learner. Learners were highly engaged with the strategy, found the playbook very useful and are already putting it to use in their day-to-day.

And while organizations often think about defining behaviors for customer-facing employees, a clear set of behaviors can be critical for how employees work together. For example, in response to changing expectations of work from home during the pandemic, leadership at IBM defined a pledge on how to best support each other. The pledge doesn’t stop at generalizations – but rather gets incredibly specific. In a LinkedIn post, CEO Arvind Krishna elaborates on each pledge – taking “I pledge to be family sensitive” to the next level by defining “if [you] have to put a call on hold to handle a household issue, it is 100% OK.” Organizations around the globe are reinforcing the importance of creating better workplaces, but IBM has taken it to the next level by defining what better actually means.

Of course, behaviors require an ecosystem to stick – as we elaborate in our article Brand Behaviors Critical for Leaders, Managers and Employees. Organizations need to clarify the ambition for the behaviors, define the behaviors well, and then codify and connect them to the broader cultural ecosystem.

Once you have a clear set of behaviors, you need to, once again, consider what tools you’re offering to employees. As you roll out your behaviors program, consider a range of tools that can drive adoption and create strategies that stick.

  • Lower investment tools like internal resource hubs with scripts and guides, or huddle guides for coaches to encourage new behaviors.
  • Greater investments and tools including both live and asynchronous learning programs and realigned performance expectations
  • Full system changes and support such as built-in digital tools and AI tracking, which can enable more effective, real-time measurement and tracking


Strategies don’t just happen. And just as they require time to develop and refine, the same thoughtfulness should be put into making them real. Ask yourself “How should my team behave differently to deliver on this strategy?” and then answer the ever-important question “What tools will I make available?” Such employee engagement strategies and tactics are essential for every workplace – the organizations that invest in defining the right employee behaviors and supporting tools will be the ones who attract, engage and retain the best talent in the long term.

Do you need help defining which behavior changes could unlock business performance and increase your employee engagement? Reach out to our Organization & Culture practice today to hear how we are solving this challenge for clients just like you.