- The increasing rate and pace of change.
- The rise of new and disruptive technologies.
- The blurring of boundaries between work and home.
- Changing workforce demographics, demands and the talent gap.
These are just a few of today’s challenges that make business too complex and fast-moving for any one person to have all the answers. That means the way we think about, approach and develop our leadership and communications has never mattered more.
Since launching 67 years ago, less than 11% of Fortune 500 companies remain. The lifetime of the best performing companies back then was around 60 years; in the next few, it’s likely to drop to 14 years. So, we already know what we did yesterday doesn’t work today and that what we do today won’t get us to where we need to be tomorrow. None of us alone hold the key to get to where we’ll need to be, so we need the help of everyone in the organisation to help deliver success.
Today’s highest performing leaders care greatly about performance and profit, but they achieve them by focusing on people and purpose. They convene curious and cognitively diverse teams through intent, around a compelling view of the future that brings purpose to work and meaning to individual contributions.
Yet it’s much quicker and easier to write, and indeed read, that last paragraph than it is to actually do it. While leaders are more likely to find meaning in their work because of their enhanced access to insights and information, helping their teams do so (while critical to engagement and performance), has historically proved far more challenging.
A 2018 study by Reward Gateway showed only a quarter of employees felt completely informed about their organisation’s mission – a figure that’s no doubt worsened throughout the pandemic’s predominately remote communications. But whatever today’s number, if 3 in 4 people don’t fully understand how their work contributes to the big picture, how are they going to feel any connection to it, extract meaning from it, or enthusiasm to deliver against it?
How to better engage people with your big picture
Successful leaders do three things to engage their people through purpose, by putting and keeping them in the big picture:
1.They connect the dots for others. Having a compelling vision is critical to communicating the future state you want to create. But painting a vivid macro picture of the future, while vital, isn’t enough to get there. We also need to translate that vision and strategy to the local level and into simple everyday actions.
Too often we assume that sharing the grand plan for how our organisation is a part of something great is enough. We imagine everyone can ‘join up the dots’ for themselves and see how their day-to-day work adds meaningful value.
Making those connections will be easier for some than others. If I’m a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company whose mission it is to enhance quality of life through drugs and therapies, it’s relatively easy for me to see how my work adds value. But how do I fit if I’m in a less obvious supporting role, such as IT, Finance or Operations?
2. They story tell. Compelling stories can connect people to purpose and make it relevant for them. We all love stories – and we have done for millennia. Strong stories, strategically shared at the right time and in the right way, can transform perceptions of purpose and performance. The best stories are visual; they employ metaphor to conjure clear and specific pictures and, when accompanied by images, powerfully appeal to peoples different learning styles. There are practical tips in this article on how to become a better business storyteller.
3. They continually remind people. ‘Once and done’ communications just don’t work. There’s credible research that shows that to take something in, to really hear a message, we need exposure to it multiple times. There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest it may be as many as six or seven times. We tend to invest greatly the first time we share something, but continual repetition tends to quickly bore the teller, who loses interest, before even the stickiest stories have time to take hold with the workforce, the very people they are designed to engage.
Communication, communication, communication – good leaders aren’t afraid to repeat themselves, indeed they purposefully do so and slowly build information at deliberate intervals.
Successful leaders connect the dots, so everyone is clear how their work contributes to the bigger picture. They do so by sharing it in a compelling way and they remind people what they are working towards, where they are on the journey and why their work matters. Everyone wants to feel valued, know that their work is meaningful and understand how what they do contributes to their organisation’s purpose, vision… and ultimately, success.
We know the most engaged and productive people are those with purpose, but what we often forget is that we need to help our people see how their work contributes to that wider vision. So, if you are looking to rectify that, then these three things will help. And, if you’d like more support putting your people in the big picture, we’d love to partner you.
Axiom’s Big Picture approach is a proven communications technique that beautifully blends powerful imagery with compelling storytelling. Crucially, it helps employees literally see, hear and feel your vision of the future, where they fit in and how they can make a difference. Axiom’s Big Picture approach results in the creation of a stunning visual metaphor, together with the narrative and interactive activities to accompany it. It enables leaders to share vision and strategy, then translate that to make it meaningful and actionable at a localised level to make it happen.
“The Big Picture helped us ensure everyone around the world knew what we were trying to achieve and how they can contribute. In more than 25 years in senior management, Axiom are the most creative and professional communication and engagement advisors I’ve ever met.”
Andreas Joehle, former CEO, HARTMANN Group
€2bn international business providing medical & healthcare goods and services