We also know, after many years of working with organisations to do that, how difficult it is to not only physically reach people, but to translate the corporate, boardroom-suitable content into something that the wide and varied group, teams and even individuals will be able to get behind.
This isn’t something that is straight forward or that, in our opinion, benefits from a “one-size-fits-all” solution or methodology; however, there are a few key principles that we have seen make a significant difference in a wide range of different organisations, in different sectors, with different cultures.
Visuals eat words for breakfast
Not only are visuals quicker for people to process, and so are more effective in communication channels, they leave a visual impression which reduces the amount people need to interpret for themselves. This can provide a common reference point for people, to be constantly reinforced in ongoing communications…in a way that words can’t be.
Try this example: A group wanted to depict their desire to build an organisation where people felt that they could take action. Where risks and making decisions were rewarded rather than punished. Where every person in the organisation was important, valued for their contribution and the impact they made to the overall success of the company. They didn’t want to just tell people this, they wanted they wanted people to “feel” it.
All of this was captured in this single image…
Use of metaphor
Corporate strategies and narratives are, by their nature, complex beasts. They need to explain a whole lot of information to a wide range of stakeholders, all whilst inspiring action and providing clarity and confidence. Phew! No wonder bland, corporate, all-sound-the-same strategies are rolled out all the time.
Creating and building a strong metaphor or analogy can help crystallise the end vision into a common reference point, which can get ‘under the skin’ of the necessary words that surround it.
Tell a story
People have grown up with stories; people are used to hearing them; stories can transcend cultural and demographic divides. They can also create an emotional connection that little else can. This makes them perfect for translating and creating engagement in organisations.
Personal stories are particularly powerful. They can help set a context and meaning to why the CEO is passionate about delivering exceptional customer service, for example, or why a fundamental business model change is so critical to deliver. A well-crafted story can convey that passion, that meaning and that desired end state in a way that will remain in people’s minds; they will be able to mentally refer back to it in the weeks, months and even years to come.
Remember the Nordstrom Customer Service story? Where a sales assistant provided a refund to a customer, knowing that Nordstrom have never stocked the item being returned? Whether it is true or not is irrelevant. If you worked for Nordstrom, you would be in no doubt as to how you were expected to treat customers. Furthermore, that story has been used in business schools and training courses around the world to illustrate what good customer service looks like.
Have different versions for different groups
One key mistake we see organisations make is the assumption that the top-down version of the strategy needs to be the one single version of the truth. This assumption falls into the “one-size-fits-all” way of thinking- and one size rarely fits all.
Using the central version as a point of reference is correct, but different groups will require different “translations” if they are to get behind it. Sometimes this might be obvious, i.e. the focus of the narrative for the Operations division is likely to focus on the engineering changes or new product development- but sometimes it might be less obvious. One area might have a cultural challenge around a lack of decision-making, which may be a key area to focus in on to uncover what is driving that culture.
There is no magic answer for this, but taking time to get out and talk to the people impacted (job shadow them if at all possible) will give you some significant clues as to what will be the right triggers for that particular group.
Don’t bury the lede (which may not be what the board room thinks it is)
The saying “don’t bury the lede” (now most commonly written as “lead”) is common in journalism and refers to the practice of ensuring that the journalist gets to the point that its readers would be most interested in which may not be the initial trigger of the story. A brilliant, and commonly cited example is from Nora Ephron:
My high school journalism teacher, whose name is Charles O. Simms, is teaching us to write a lead–the first sentence or paragraph of a newspaper story. He writes the words “Who What Where When Why and How” on the blackboard. Then he dictates a set of facts to us that goes something like this: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento on Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Speaking there will be anthropologist Margaret Mead and Robert Maynard Hutchins, the present of the University of Chicago.” We all sit at our typewriters and write a lead, most of us inverting the set of facts so that they read something like this, “Anthropologist Margaret Mead and University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the faculty Thursday in Sacramento at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal of the high school Kenneth L. Peters announced today.” We turn in our leads. We’re very proud. Mr. Simms looks at what we’ve done and then tosses everything into the garbage. He says: “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school Thursday.’”
Strategies and narratives are no different. The board may thing that strong shareholder value is the key message. The directors may think that 15% year-on-year growth is the key message. The factory manager thinks that the lease on his factory has been renewed for 5 years is the key message. The rest is interesting, but he won’t hear it until his “lead” has been addressed. Consider what the real lead is for the people you are talking to, and don’t be afraid to play down, or push the board level ‘leads’ towards the bottom. It’s still important, but don’t bury the key point with analyst or city facing messages.
Translating strategies or narratives in a way which will build awareness, understanding and ultimately, action, is no easy task. Doing it well requires a high degree of human connection and understanding, an insight into company culture on the ground, plus a great degree of creativity and ‘jargon translation’.
At Purple Monster, we won’t tell you we have the perfect model on the shelf that we can apply to your particular situation, but we do have the skills and experience highlighted above in bucket loads. If you think we could help you breathe some life into your strategy, then get in touch.
If you want to find out about the process we might employ to work through some of these issues alongside you, then download our ‘Strategic Narrative Infographic Novel’ which explains (in visual form, of course!) the process we might take with you and what you can expect from it.