Got a master plan for the business? Does anyone know? – Communicating Strategy III

By 16th September 2013Blog, Making change happen
Strategic planning

How to ensure your people aren’t kept in the dark about what you want them to deliver.

So, your top team have had their ‘strategy retreat’. They’ve spent thousands of man-hours and no small amount of money. But at last you have it: the ‘master plan’ for your organisation, the strategy for success in the coming years.

The question is, will anyone ever know? Most of all your customers and the people who serve them?

All too often these laboriously crafted, elegant strategy documents end up on the bookshelves of a select few leaders – where they make no difference whatsoever.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when we were doing some post-conference research for B&Q. To a question we asked about understanding of the corporate strategy, one of the participants said: “Strategy? Ah yes, that’s what we talk about once a year at the conference, isn’t it?”

And in my experience, that’s significantly more than most people can recall when asked what the organisation that pays their wages is trying to achieve!

Surely, the trick is to get a return on all the investment made in crafting the strategy by bringing it to life in every corner of the business – exposing your people to the dangers of being able to deliver it, and exposing your customers to the dangers of experiencing it!

Without that, the actions of your people can quickly get out of alignment with the marketing message. There’s an infamous video on YouTube about the customer service of the big American airline United Airlines that shows just how customers love to take to social media, and get really creative, the moment they spot a gap between rhetoric and reality.

Creating a golden thread

Now imagine a time in the future where you can stop any colleague, anywhere in the world, at any time (like a customer can) and have them explain, in words that make sense to them, exactly what your business is trying to achieve – and how what they are doing, day in and day out, is helping.

In an earlier blog, I spoke of the importance of getting your story straight and of creating a sounding board to help you keep your messages real and resonant.

The communication challenge now is to keep things simple, despite the undoubted complexity of your business. Identify three to five overarching messages that define precisely what you want your people to understand and act on. Any more than five, and people get overloaded.

Once you’ve done that, you can identify the values, projects and initiatives that will help the organisation achieve its strategic goals.

The idea is to create a golden thread (or a red thread depending where you are in the world) that connects and aligns the actions of everyone in the business – from the girl in the stores and the guy on reception through to the leaders and their master plan.

Alignment in action

And it can be done. One of our clients is leading medical device manufacturer Mölnlycke, which has its global HQ in Gothenburg. Following an engaging strategy communication we developed for them, the company ran a competition that called for teams worldwide to make a home movie to show how they were bringing the strategy to life locally. The competition was won by a team from far-flung Thailand. Their prize was to visit HQ, meet the board and learn to sail – literally getting on board with the organisation’s key messages.

In future posts, I’ll offer some thoughts on what you do once you’ve identified your key messages and created your golden thread. The challenge then is to get your strategy communication out into the business – and make sure it stands out from all the noise.

In the meantime, you could try the ‘corridor challenge’. Simply step outside your office and ask 10 people, chosen randomly from different levels in the organisation, what your business is trying to achieve – and how they are helping.

I wonder what they’ll say? So might you.

Other posts on communicating strategy: