How to create visual metaphors that put all of your people in the picture

Lady Jumps On Bed | Axiom Communications

Throwing back the duvet: Engaging your entire workforce with your purpose and strategy

As a father, I clearly remember the experience of waking up in the morning to my young children’s relentless questioning – ‘Why does xxx happen Daddy, why, why, why, why? – and then feeling the need to hide under the duvet.

As we get older and enter the world of work, the ‘why’ question seems to become less frequently volunteered or vocalised. Yet addressing the ‘why’ question is critical if you are to truly engage your entire workforce with your organisation’s purpose – and the strategy you’ve carefully crafted to help it become a reality.

So, what if we could inspire your colleagues to throw back the duvet, and race in to work, keen to contribute to the success of your organisation?

The way forward is to put every single one of them ‘in the picture’ about your strategy and visual metaphors provide a powerful and proven methodology to do just that. But how do you create one?

Why visual metaphors work

Visual metaphors (or big pictures, rich images or learning maps as they are sometimes referred to) work because the majority of us prefer to process information visually. Most of us literally think in pictures. Pictures don’t rely on language skills either, so work well internationally. And if you add in an element of storytelling, perhaps the most successful communication technique ever devised by man, you’ve got a ‘super-channel’ on your hands.

The importance of choosing the right metaphor

Get your visual metaphor right and it will stand you in good stead for years to come, providing a clear compelling and consistent narrative for your organisation. And not only in your purpose and strategy communications. Your ‘picture of success’ should feature in your induction activities, conferences and townhalls, even your objective setting process. Get the metaphor wrong and the cynics in your business will have a field day and sink your attempts to engage.

Creating alternative metaphors to choose from

Your visual metaphor must really resonate with as many of your workforce as possible, so I recommend you create some options to choose from. First, identify the 8 to 10 main messages you want to get across to the organisation, certainly no more. Then brainstorm some potential visual metaphors to choose from. Journey metaphors often work well, so do evolution, exploration and sporting metaphors. Next create a pen portrait for every one of your options, highlighting how each of your main messages will be brought to life through that metaphor.

Pressure test your options

Given the critical importance of getting your metaphor right I recommend you pressure test your ideas with a representative group of employees. Their task is threefold:

  1. First tear your metaphors to pieces and be as cynical as possible
  2. Then tell you which metaphors they liked, perhaps even found inspiring
  3. Finally, contribute their ideas to make them even better

It should be noted there is not a picture in sight at this stage. Illustration is a time-consuming process with attendant costs, so only needs to be deployed when things become clearer.

Less is more

Every visual element that you include in your potential ‘Big Picture’ needs to earn its place and trigger a conversation among colleagues about your purpose, your main messages and the role of colleagues in delivering success. I often find that deciding what you leave out of your visual metaphor is harder than deciding what to include. Experience tells me that keeping your visual metaphor as simple as possible will help ensure its eventual success, as a communication tool.

Taking the next steps

Following the steps above will help you identify the key elements to include in your visual metaphor. Now you are ready to engage a creative partner to actually turn these elements into an actual image. Once evolved and signed off, this image then forms the basis of an interactive briefing tool, the Big Picture for your business, with some guidance notes for briefing leaders. The next step is to roll that briefing out globally, and put everyone in the picture, literally, showing them where their contribution fits in.

Make that Big Picture briefing compelling enough and you might just get your workforce throwing back the duvet and racing in to work.

For help with creating your Big Picture, take a look at our approach. For more information on how we can assist, please contact our team of experts today.

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