Leading organisations requires aligning people behind purpose and common goals. This essential task also meets employees increasing desire to know the purpose of the organisations they work for1, and customers are increasingly likely to expect employers to demonstrate social responsibility including consideration of the knowledge and welfare of their people. To meet these needs, leaders need to cut through and provide this information in ways that are relevant, appealing and easy to communicate.
Creating a picture that conveys purpose, vision, strategy and operational plans provides an effective tool for learning and a platform for conversations that can be far more effective and impactful than traditional approaches involving telling people about strategy.
One of the reasons is that our brains are better at remembering information that has been delivered using visuals as opposed to text or verbal communication. The Picture Superiority Effect is well established in psychology and refers to the likelihood that people will remember pictures and images better than words.
If we hear a piece of information, we will tend to remember 10% of it three days later. But if the information is delivered using a picture as well, we will tend to remember 65% of it three days later.2 Explanations for this differ but include the argument that our brains find it easier to encode and recall pictures, and that abstract concepts presented as more concrete and tangible images are easier to remember.
Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up an estimated 50% of our brain’s resources.3 The brain we have and use today evolved hundreds of thousands of years before writing evolved and is wired to process visual information more rapidly than text or language. Pictorial information takes less cognitive effort to process and is more attractive to our brains; it is a more efficient way to convey information.
The power of visuals is well illustrated by iconic images that stick in the mind. Witness “Earthrise” taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts or US ironworkers lunching perilously on a beam at the RCA Building in Manhattan.
Educators, health communicators and advertisers use imagery all the time, and it is becoming increasingly popular in the communication of strategy. A visual of the strategy typically captures:
- Legacy and heritage such as founders’ stories and previous milestones
- Why change is necessary which may include external forces, customer needs and issues about the way the business currently operates
- The vision for the future and how the organisation will help key groups
- The journey to the vision which often brings together and illustrates how different things fit, including for example strategic themes, brand and positioning, values and transformation programmes
- What happens if we do not change?
There will be exceptions where the precision provided by technical language or mathematical equations may be required. But for the most part explaining the key elements of how an organisation exists to benefit customers or others, and the main thrusts of a strategic plan, can usually be captured visually. Once done so, this picture becomes an effective way of involving people in conversations about the business that will be more memorable and involving.
Using a picture provides a platform that allows people to discuss its significance for them and how they can support the strategy. The evidence that it is more memorable comes from before and after tests with employees. In one study we found that only 1 in 5 employees could name just one of the major business goals of a major travel business. Three months after using a picture to illustrate the strategy and involving employees in talking about it, over 50% could recall unprompted all of the major business goals involved in the strategy.
Cartoon: David Gifford, Inscript Designs
- McKinsey & Co; April 2021; Help your employees find purpose or watch them leave
- Stenberg, G (2006); Conceptual and perceptual factors in the picture superiority effect; European Journal of Cognitive Psychology 18(6): 813 – 847)
- John Medina; Brain Rules; Pear Press, 2014