We humans love stories. All across the globe, children delight in going to bed every night, being tucked in by their parents, snuggling up and flicking through their favorite picture book. Adults are no different – when they grow up they still crave compelling narratives to make sense of the world. Yet many organizations forget the human element when telling the story of their strategy and, consequently, fail to engage their employees.
This poses a major problem because employees are at the heart of successful strategy: they pump life into it, day in and day out. A groundbreaking idea or insight must be activated or it is as good as worthless. Business strategies don’t fail because leaders lack planning skills or enthusiasm, says Stephen Cummings, professor of strategic management at Victoria University. They fail because they are “poorly expressed.”
Even communication experts themselves admit their internal messaging could be much more effective. Most concede they use too much jargon, with a report from the IABC finding that only 21% of communicators believe they use simple language, free from meaningless buzzwords.
Worse still, the vast majority admit their messaging lacks inspiration – 93% of communication experts believe that creativity is important, but only 6% feel they are using creativity to produce the most engaging corporate narratives. According to the innovation consultancy that did the research, Alive with Ideas, it’s “that jump-out-of-bed creativity” and “visual magic” which enables companies to genuinely connect and engage a dedicated workforce.
If employees can’t visualise the strategic path forward, they can’t follow it. If they don’t feel connected to their employer and the corporate mission, they won’t want to follow it. Communications that clarify and connect, linking employees to a sense of purpose and a bigger picture, are fundamental to meeting goals and hitting targets. This challenge will only get more important and complex as growing numbers of workers work flexibly and from home. So, how can companies inspire and empower employees to put strategy into action?
You go back to basics: to stories and pictures. If they can see it, they can be it, says the adage. This is never more true than today, in our increasingly visual world, where we are consuming more pictures and video content than ever before. Our work with Sport Canterbury is a good example. Before we started working with them, there was a disconnect between strategic objectives and what each individual was doing on a daily basis. We were tasked with creating a stronger connection between staff members out in the field and the wider aim of the organisation.
Through StrategyBlocks, Sport Canterbury created a central hub which captures information, quantitative and qualitative, from all parts of the company, feeding into an overall vision. This evolving vision is quickly and easily represented by a series of cascading blocks, showing how the strategy fits together and how different departments and tasks are constantly building and contributing to progressing this plan. Cultivating this company-wide sense of purpose boosts staff motivation, morale, teamwork and collaboration. In fact, staff at all levels now report feeling like they are authentically connected to their peers and leaders and are making a worthwhile contribution and difference to the company’s success.
So, while company strategy might not ever be pleasurable bedtime reading, it needs to be crafted in a compelling, inspiring way rather than one which puts people to sleep. The way you communicate will determine whether your employees jump out of bed with a spring in their step, or whether they feel like staying under the covers all day.