Strategy: the word has a powerful ring to it. However, having a strategy is not enough. You also need to make sure that your organisation knows it, lives it and breathes it. Here, many companies still have a long way to go. A great way to start is to make sure that you are able to communicate your strategy in just a couple of sentences.
It is a big frustration for many executives: You have spend time on a long retreat. You have developed a beautiful strategy, and you are proud of it.
Then you are all back, do big town hall meetings and present the carefully crafted strategy PowerPoint deck to the organisation.
You are sure all worked out fine. Everybody is updated and aligned.
Then you ask your organization some questions for feedback, as part of for instance an employee survey: “Are you aware of the business unit’s strategy?”
And then the results come in – and you realise…
Nobody is even aware of the strategy! But whose fault is that?
The ability to communicate your strategy in a short and clear way is in my view an underdeveloped skill in many organisations. While the first step is of course to have a well-rounded strategy it is equally important to be able to communicate the strategy in a concise way. Here are some ideas and techniques on how to do that effectively.
6 ideas for short, powerful strategy communication
In my strategy workshops and keynotes I often do an exercise which I call rapid strategy creation. One creates the prototype of the strategy and refines it from there. The key word here is: succinct.
1) Use a framework
While it is powerful to think as part of strategy creation outside the box, I would also recommend to think sometimes when communicating strategy inside the box. That means, to clearly highlight and repeat a similar structure and pattern time and again. Examples for these frameworks are for instance:
- Why – What – How? A first and very straightforward start can be to dive into the three key questions of businesses, as eloquently highlighted by Simon Sinek and others.
- 5×10 & more: Another format that I have developed is the 5×10 format. This format pushes executives to summarise their strategy in 5 bullet points on one slide, with 10 words per bullet. A great starting point.
- The 6 golden questions of strategy: 1) What do we focus on? 2) Where do we focus? 3) Why do we focus on these areas? 4) What skills / competences will we leverage? 5) How will we measure success? 6) What do we not do?
The beauty of formats like these is that they are straightforward to recognise by the organisation, easy to use, and push people to be ultra-concise.
2) Learn from startups: The short pitch
I think corporations can learn a lot from startup pitches. Startup founders need t communicate their strategy constantly and “speed-update” people on their strategy, with pitch decks and the famous “elevator pitches”.
Some excellent templates exists for this. One of the most powerful that I have come across was the “one sentence pitch” from Adeo Ressi of the Founder Institute:
My company __(Name)__ is developing ___(a defined offering)___ to help __(defined audience)___(___solve a problem)___ with ___(secret sauce)______.
For strategy communication you can think of similar statements. During strategy facilitations I work with sentences like this:
For our (company/team/division/…) we focus on ____________________________. We do this because_________________________. We know that we are on the right track when__________________________ happens. The key metric(s) for our success is/are ______________________________. Finally, we will not focus on ___________________________.
3) Make it memorable
Once you have the clarity defined you can start to work on each of these sentences and produce short and memorable statements like Steve Job’s famous: “1000 songs in your pocket” or SouthWest Airlines famous “The low-cost airline”. Condensed focus sentences like this make it very clear to remember the key points of your strategy.
4) Do a repeat exercise
A great way to test whether your short strategy communication will be memorable is to do brief repeat exercises. Share your answers from points 1-3 with a person who has not heard it before. Then let this person share the strategy with another person who has not heard about it, and then let this individual report back to you. If you hear then also a clear message that is close to what you communicated in the first place, you have a good chance that the full organisation can remember it.
5) Add storytelling & selected detail
Once the strategy communication is concise and clear for everybody you can further spice it up to make it exciting and engaging. This is best done via storytelling, i.e. choosing 1-2 key examples of best practices, cases, etc. that are “on strategy” and add this to your short update. I recommend to not just tell: “Department B did it, too”.Rather, share the full evolution of story: (“Department B had this challenge. First they tried this. Then this, Because of that they had this result…. etc. etc.”). Here a post with key elements of storytelling if you want to develop this further.
6) Repetition, repetition, repetition: Use facetime moments to anchor the strategy
One thing is often a given in today’s work environment: executives have many meetings. Once your strategy is crystal-clear, it is your job to constantly repeat the essence of the strategy to the organisation. If you have done your job well and distilled it to the 2 minute version it should not be too difficult to weave in some or all elements of the strategy every time you have a meeting, for instance in the opening or summary of the meeting. This ensures the transmission of strategy, one of the key tasks of every leader.
TL;DR: Master the art of short strategy communication
On the web you will find more and more the abbreviation: tl;dr, which stands for too long, didn’t read, usually followed by the quick summary of an article. Leaders should master the art of the short strategy communication and develop a “TL;DR” version of their strategy as well and frequently ask themselves: “Can I describe our strategy in two minutes or less?” Because if you can you will have laid the foundation of great strategy execution.
If you want to learn how to tell your strategy story further, there is a business and strategy storytelling master class with Lars upcoming on December 5th, 2017, in Belgium. You can find more information here.
Lars Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global corporations. You can contact Lars to work with you as keynote speaker at your next event or strategy advisor for management teams. You can find more articles and information as well Lars’ TEDx talks here.