I am currently reading Richard Rumelt's excellent book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters (2011) and find it a refreshing and insightful exploration of what strategy, strategy-setting and strategic thinking are about. This is a book that was recommended to me, and in turn I recommend it to you.
The book got me reflecting on the importance of engaging people at all levels in strategy, and the frustration leaders feel at the difficulty they face in doing so. In this blog I'll highlight critical points for business leaders to consider when they find themselves asking that agonised question: How do I get people interested in the new business strategy?
Here are five top tips for communicating about strategy in a way that engages people.
1. Don't expect everyone to be interested on every part of the strategy
They won't be! They will care only about those elements that either (a) impact them or (b) interest them, and (b) is usually a subset of (a)!
Just think about the amount of information you get everyday in newspapers, reports and meetings. Do you take it all in avidly and with equal interest? Of course you don't. You tune into the bits that matter to you and interest you. Why should engaging people in business strategy be any different? Don't waste your time or your employees trying to engage them in the irrelevant bits – focus on those that really matter to them.
2. Avoid stating your strategy as a series of goals
Rumelt shares great insights around just how meaningless goals can be when mistaken for strategy. And when it comes to communication, goals really aren't helpful either. Strategic goals such as 'reduce operating costs by 20%' aren't helpful as expressions either of strategic intent or of individual objectives. Our brains don't have enough information to connect with, or solve, so it doesn't find enough to engage it.
On the other hand, 'decrease operating costs from x to y' gives a specific set of parameters to work within and a problem to solve. Now, if you have considered point (1) above, and give me a problem to solve or an opportunity to make the most of in a way that makes sense to me, I want to engage with it.
3. Don't make a glossy corporate video full of platitudes and spin
By far the most engaging way to share the corporate strategy is from managers to direct reports and in a way that highlights those parts of the strategy that matter to the recipients. But, if you don't trust your managers to do this effectively, or want to add the Chief Executive's personal message, by all means make a video.
And when you do, keep the message honest and down-to-earth. Give praise and acknowledge good work done, but don't ignore problems and challenges past, present and future. A genuine message shared in a basic video is worth ten glossy films made up of spin.
4. Don't confuse 'simple' with 'simplistic'
This is a frequent mistake in all corporate communications, not just those related to strategy. Simple messages share relevant information in a straightforward way and treat people as adults. Simplistic messages try to jazz up the message with unnecessary graphics and humour and treats people like five-year-olds.
The former engages and motivates. The latter is condescending and cringeworthy. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use graphics or humour at all – but they should be relevant and add meaning.
5. Communicate often and use different media over a period of time
This has got to be the most basic of all these points and I don't believe there is a manager reading this who hasn't already heard it many times. So why is it that so many still persist in being shocked when they discover that, having done the video/presentation/briefing last week, the message didn't sink in straight away.
Managers, be shocked no longer! Just keep in mind that people need to see, hear and talk about a strategy a number of times before they remember, understand and, ultimately, engage with it.
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