Seeing the wood and the trees

Woman walking in a dark forest

How to paint a picture of future success for your organisation and get your people telling stories about how their hard work makes a difference.

Experience tells us that staff contribute more fully to business performance when they know how the work they do day in and day out fits into the grand scheme of things. Yet all too often, when asked how their work contributes to achieving even their team’s goals, never mind the company’s, they complain they can’t see the wood for the trees.

If we consider the wood to be the context in which teams and individuals operate and the trees to be the content of their work, they need to be able to see both the wood and the trees. Indeed, if you extend the metaphor, they might also benefit from understanding the forest too, if you think of that as the marketplace in which the business operates.

Creating alignment

What’s needed is total alignment between the actions of every member of staff, wherever they work, and the delivery of business objectives. Jack, on reception, needs to be able to explain how his making customers feel welcome and valued helps Jill, the sales director, achieve her targets. And Janet, in R&D, needs to be able to articulate how her latest innovation helps John, the managing director, create new markets.

Creating a laser straight ‘line of sight’ between an individual’s daily tasks and the longer-term goals of the business is often as tricky in a small start-up as it is in a large established business. So how can you do it

A way forward

Although it’s better than nothing, sharing a spreadsheet as part of an annual objective-setting session is one way forward. But it’s hardly likely to get people throwing back the duvet and racing in to work on a daily basis.

But there are some serious signposts for a better way forward:

Paint a picture of future success for your organisation…

  • Show your people where you’ve come from, where you are now, where you want to be as a business and how you’re going to get there. Ideally in a single image, via a universally appropriate metaphor.

Get your people telling stories about how their hard work makes a difference…

  • Imagine the power of your entire workforce being able to explain back to you, in their own words, how they can contribute to the success of your business.

If you can combine the impact of a visual image with the power of storytelling, then you create a super-channel – a channel that our clients call many different things: big picture, rich image, learning map. What they all call it is successful!

Big picture success

The leader of a utilities business, referring to the success of his organisation’s big picture, said: “Eighty percent of our people who climb poles or dig holes are now aware of the business plan and their role in delivering it.”

Third-party employee research in a client from the medical devices world found a 24% improvement against the question “I know what I can do to help achieve our strategy.” And in an aviation client, 76% of around 2,000 staff said they had “a clear understanding of this company’s objectives and vision” – up 22% on the year before.

Unlike the annual objective-setting approach, a big picture can be prominently displayed as an image throughout your business and reinforced through all of your internal media. This will trigger your people to tell and retell the right kind of stories daily: forest, wood, trees, twigs, the lot. And you won’t even get a splinter trying to align them!

Find out more about Axiom’s approach to communicating the big picture.