Making your strategy the STAR in internal communication – communicating strategy IV

Gold stars

How to ensure your key messages become Something They’ll Always Remember.

In the early 90s, when I was cutting my teeth in internal communication, we had relatively few channels to choose from: conferences, roadshows, videos, audio tapes (leading-edge, eh?), newsletters and … the post.

Today we have many more internal communication channels at our disposal, but the challenge is probably harder. How do you make your most important messages – like the company strategy – stand out from the rest?

Back then, paper-based messages, distributed by post, were by far the cheapest and simplest means of communication. Not surprisingly, it was the channel of choice for many a head office. As a result, staff were inundated with paper raining down like confetti, each item supposedly demanding their attention.

Keen to get his messages noticed, one director at a company I worked in innovated by putting his messages on red paper. The next week every missive fired out by the confetti canon of head office was on red paper!

Even so, the director was onto something: the need for contrast to help messages stand out.

Much more recently, I saw history repeat itself as a global pharma sent out its new vision on A1 framed posters – using the usual corporate font and colours and on the usual white background. The posters duly replaced the ones hung there before, which looked just like the ones from the year before that. The result? No-one even noticed the new vision, let alone took action to bring it to life.

The notion of creating ‘contrast’ in communications is highlighted in Resonate, an outstanding book by Nancy Duarte. It’s where I first came across the acronym STAR – for Something They’ll Always Remember.

Contrast in methods and messages

Duarte speaks of the importance of deliberately using techniques that are in stark contrast to those used before. And in the communication itself, you’ve got to be super-clear about contrast in the changes you want to see – for instance, between the pain of the past and the potential gains of the future, or between the blockages that have limited success and the clear pathways to future excellence.

That’s the theory. So what can you do to make your strategy communication stand out?

Here are just some of the novel internal communication techniques we’ve used in stark contrast to the standard fare of PowerPoint and bullet points that the companies concerned had used before:

  • We put the business plan in a can for a UK client, echoing the client’s strapline for the year, This Business Can. The campaign was given added resonance by a TV ad running at the time for Ronseal DIY products that promised: “It does what it says on the tin”.
  • We created personalised strategy guides, authored by leaders themselves, that provided The Next Chapters in the company’s success story. To keep the messages alive, those same leaders are now creating a monthly podcast, The Next Chapters Audio Book.
  • We turned articulation of the strategy into a game under the banner “Delivering the strategy: anything but a trivial pursuit”.
  • We created desk and electronic diaries, made to look like they were written by recipients. The diaries highlighted what progress in delivering the strategy would mean in practice at specific dates in the year.
  • Many times over, we’ve literally drawn the strategy, using a technique our clients often call The Big Picture. The technique was featured recently in the Sunday Telegraph in the UK and has proved very successful across sectors.

Things have changed a lot since the days of red paper, but whichever technique you use, the trick is to get your key messages to stand out. Contrast is king.

So far in these posts on communicating strategy, I’ve talked about getting your story straight by creating a message manifesto, creating sounding boards to sense check your messages, and then ensuring your strategy becomes visible beyond the boardroom. Now I’ve been talking about the importance of contrast. Next time, I’ll talk about how to bring your strategy to life in every part of your organisation.

Meanwhile, you might like to ask yourself: Is my strategy communication the STAR engagement activity? Or just an extra with a walk-on part and no lines to learn?