Listen Up

Despite all the previous books and articles that have been written on communication, CEOs and senior executives spend too little time articulating their strategy across the organisation. Some CEOs, of course, are great at this. When I worked at Boots the Chemists, Richard Baker was brilliant at repeating the same message in all his communications – board meetings, newsletters, store visits, individual conversations.

Richard never knowingly missed an opportunity to articulate his strategic priorities and why they were important, and, unsurprisingly, the organisation quickly ‘got’ what the strategy was about and started to make it a reality.

Here are six ways that you can improve your ability to communicate your company’s strategy:

  1. Have your 3-5 strategic priorities to refer to in every discussion.

    Keep it simple, stupid: this was the cornerstone of Richard Baker’s approach. Like a politician who has decided the answers she wants give, even before she’s been asked the questions, Richard was able to bring all of his responses back to his key priorities for the business.

  2. Expect to communicate it over 6,000 times.

    If a strategy has a ‘life’ of three years and we assume that there are circa 200 working days a year and that you have 10 opportunities to articulate the strategy each day, there are up to 6,000 separate strategy sound bite opportunities over the three years. Of course, you could be more communicative, but let’s start somewhere! Yes, it may become slightly boring for you to keep repeating the same message. But it is what’s required before it is fully embedded and understood across your organisation.

  3. Have conversations, not speeches.

    More important than your big, set-piece speeches is the drip, drip, drip of your daily conversations. Unless they are in line with your key messages, your carefully crafted annual speech will be quickly forgotten and ignored.

  4. Create an emotional connection, not just a rational argument.

    Strong logic and rationale will help your people understand the new strategy. But they will only become committed if there is an emotional impact as well. For example, one of my clients, Avon Cosmetics, focuses its message around its goal of ‘empowering women’. This message helps create an emotional connection between the company and its thousands of, almost exclusively, female representatives around the globe.

  5. Use stories and examples.

    When Sir Stuart Rose became CEO of M&S he used the story of how one product manager developed a new espadrille shoe in just 12 days – by ignoring the company’s usual development processes – as an example to the rest of the business about effective risk taking. That story was worth a million Powerpoint® slides exhorting people to work faster.

  6. Take visible action.

    In the end, of course, actions speak louder than words. For example, one way in which P&G’s ex-CEO, AG Lafley, hammered home his message that ‘the consumer is boss’ by ensuring each of his business trips included in-home and in-store customer sessions. What did his team and their teams then do on their trips? Yes, you’ve guessed it.

Communication is not an adjunct of effective strategy management; it’s at the heart of effective strategy management. Which of these six actions could help you engage your teams and embed your strategy across your organisation?


© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.