People need clarity and certainty about their organisation’s strategy to share goals and build common purpose. But an understanding of strategic themes (e.g., digitisation, customer experience) will not bring strategy to life and provide “line of sight” – that key connection that explains “what it means for me”.
Real understanding, and indeed the effective implementation of strategy, requires the internalisation of strategy. In other words, understanding how to apply what the strategy means to the work that people do, the decisions they make, and what they communicate to colleagues, customers, and suppliers. For example, if the strategy involves investment in new technology people need to know how this helps their work, how customers benefit, and what they need to do to exploit the investment to support the business.
The answers to these questions are detailed and different depending upon different roles. So, getting people involved in understanding business strategies and creating line of sight between local activities and the bigger picture requires an approach to communication that is conversation based. Conversations are radically different from a traditional cascade approach in which leaders and managers tell people about a new strategy or vision.
A cascade process tells people about the direction the business aims to go. A conversation challenges people to think about the role they play in delivering the strategy. While the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, they have very different characteristics across a number of dimensions.
|1. Desired outcome||Awareness and high-level understanding||Ownership of strategy and relevance at local level|
|2. Primary objective||Build awareness of vision and strategy||Build understanding of what vision and strategy means for the business and individuals; establish “line of sight”|
|3. Approach to content and delivery||Rational explanation and logic; presentations, video, slides||Logic and emotion; pictures, stories, scenarios to prompt debate|
|4. Direction||Mainly top-down with questions||Mainly lateral within and across teams|
|5. Typical format||Large meetings and Town Halls||Breakouts and smaller group discussions|
|6. Manager’s role||Articulate and defend message||Tell story and ask questions|
|7. Evaluation criteria||Quality of delivery, levels of awareness||Quality of conversation, levels of ownership, commitment and appropriate actions|
The irony is that most business leaders want the outcome and the objectives identified at the top of the table in the right-hand column, but adopt approaches highlighted in the middle column. Moving to conversation-based approaches involves using techniques other than the Town Hall to help people internalise the messages. Companies need platforms to use with small groups that both convey the big picture in relevant and engaging ways and that prompt teams to ask relevant questions about the way they work.
There are many different ways to create these kinds of conversations, but they all require balancing the strategic vision with the local application. Using a picture and listening to what people think about the strategy, rather than talking at them, is more memorable, tailored, relevant, tangible, and avoids jargon. It is also more involving and as a platform to support a conversation a picture provides an opportunity for people to relate the big picture to the work that they do. This shifts the communication dynamic from “telling” to “exploring” and enables people to relate their work to the strategy and to talk to each other about how their work currently does, or does not, deliver on the intentions raised in the picture.
This capacity to help build “line of sight” means that a conversation approach provides a more long-lasting, effective and impactful approach than the cascade in which groups come together to be talked at about the strategy.
Image acknowledgement: Another great David Gifford illustration