You have developed your strategy and are ready to implement. However to do so effectively, you want to make sure your team understands what your business strategy is all about and what is expected of them. Here are 12 effective ways to communicate your strategy to employees.
- Team meeting
- Strategy conference
- Virtual meeting / webinar
- One-on-one meeting
- Informal conversations
- Video recording
- Story / fairytale
- Strategy handbook
- Strategy board
- Regular strategy newsletter
- Use a one-page strategy framework
Great, that’s a handsome list. Now let’s dig deeper and learn more about how you can use these ways to get your message across. Before we do so, why is it so important to effectively communicate the strategy?
Importance of effective strategy communication
Your people are the engine behind your business. It’s the people that move your business forward. It’s the people that help you achieve your objectives and implement your strategy. It is therefore critical that your people understand the direction of the business and what is expected of them.
Unfortunately, the reality is that in many organizations the strategy is not clear.
According to a recent survey by Bridges Business Consultancy, a staggering 67% of strategies fail during implementation1. And the number 1 reason for failure is… (drum roll, please)… poor communication! A similar study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that communication surrounding strategic initiatives and communication of the overall strategy were among the top barriers for effective strategy implementation2.
Effective communication of a strategy is critical because there is a direct link between clarity of the strategy and its effective execution. This makes intuitive sense. When all rowers in a boat know in which direction to paddle, the boat is more likely to pick up speed and reach its destination.
Simply defined, the business strategy describes the set of choices the business makes to achieve its objective and goals. For the strategy to be effectively implemented, clarity about the vision, mission, and objectives of the business throughout the organization is essential.
So, here are 12 creative ways – in no particular order – to communicate your strategy to your employees to make sure that the people in your business know where the business is heading.
The team meeting is the classic approach to communicating important information such as the strategy of the business.
The team meeting is typically an in-person meeting of a group of people who know each other well and closely work with each other. Team meetings are typically held at regular intervals. Some teams meet daily, weekly or on a monthly basis.
Team sizes can vary of course from a few people to a couple of dozen people. Regardless, team meetings are typically intimate settings with a level of trust established among team members. Team meetings are therefore good opportunities for strategy communication.
Depending on your team norms and culture, you may choose to present the strategy to the team or have a detailed discussion. The team setting is excellent however, because its setting allows for an intimate dialogue about the strategy, what it means for the business and what it means for your team.
Take as much time as you need for this discussion. Ensure that there is an opportunity to ask questions and clarify concerns. It must be the objective of the discussion to create clarity and understanding about the strategy. Conclude the team meeting when all questions are asked and everyone can state the strategy in their own words.
Consider using visual aids, props, stories or other means discussed in this article to make the strategy discussion in your team meeting as engaging and memorable as possible.
Town Hall Meetings
The town hall meeting is typically a communication session with a larger audience in which a group of people is consulted or informed on a topic of interest. According to Wikipedia, the town hall format originates from colonial era North America, when politicians communicated with their constituents on matters related to the community or new policies and regulations. The town hall format has meanwhile been popularized by politicians and business leaders around the globe.
The exact format, length, venue, and purpose of town hall meetings may vary. Town hall meetings are great for strategy communication because the business leader can directly address the entire company or a large group of employees. The format allows for interaction, debate, question & answer, and clarification.
The communication of the strategy during a town hall meeting could take the form of a presentation with subsequent Q&A session. The business leader or the senior leadership team can directly address the team and be available for questions and comments.
This way the organization can hear the strategy and its purpose directly from the most senior leaders instead of reading about it or hearing it cascaded through the hierarchy. This could greatly enhance the level of understanding of the strategy.
The strategy conference is typically a high level meeting of the most senior members of an organization. The aim of a strategy conference is to communicate the strategy and also work out further details about its implementation. The purpose of a strategy conference is to involve its participants in the discussion and detailing of the strategy.
The strategy conference can be a powerful way of disseminating the strategy as it involves a large number of people in its creation and implementation. This creates buy-in and commitment. It also gives members of the organization the opportunity to help shape the strategy and with it the future of the business.
Imagine the strategy conference to be a multi-day meeting at an offsite location. It may include formal presentations and speeches. It may also include workshops and break-out sessions.
The most effective strategy conferences have an overall theme or purpose and constitute a mix of sessions and formats.
The strategy conference should have a closing session in which the results of the conference are presented and discussed.
I have personally participated at several such strategy conferences on global, regional, and national levels. The conferences typically included 50-100 participants and covered longer-term strategic objectives and annual operating plans. The conferences I attended mixed formal speeches with informal discussions, casual encounters and team-building sessions.
Especially the latter part of informal and casual sessions were important in reaching the employees, setting the tone and making things fun and engaging. I can only recommend it!
Virtual meeting / webinar
A virtual meeting or webinar is similar to a town hall – except that it’s not held in person but online. The purpose is however the same. It’s a large group meeting to communicate the strategy directly from the leaders to the employees while providing a forum for questions and clarifications.
There are many online platforms nowadays that support such virtual meetings. There are for example, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Webex. All of these platforms allow for participants to dial in by computer or by phone and to share and view presentations.
In addition, a technology I find particularly compelling to complement virtual meetings is Slido available on www.slido.com. Slido allows participants to ask their questions via a designated website or app. The questions can be collected, ranked and answered one-by-one in turn.
What’s particularly compelling on Slido is that participants have the choice to identify themselves or ask questions anonymously. In my experience the option of anonymity takes away some people’s barrier to raising questions. Slido also allows for polling and quizzing of participants and thereby creates a whole different meeting experience. Highly recommended!
As the name suggests, one-on-one meetings are small, intimate sessions between two persons. Often less formal in nature, these are typical interactions between managers and employees or between peers.
Because of the intimate, private setting, one-on-ones can mark an effective occasion to provide in-depth information about the strategy, additional (potentially confidential) information or subject-matter specific information. It is also a good occasion to clarify specific questions or seek commitment from important individuals.
I have often used one-on-one meetings to follow up on larger team communications and to address specific questions related to specific persons or topics. For example, I may follow up with a person who had a particular question in a town hall or I may clarify with the leader of a strategic initiative what exactly is expected of him or her.
In one-on-ones, I try to make sure that the other person is comfortable and feels free to raise any question or comment by establishing a trustful, relaxed atmosphere.
One word of caution: one-on-ones are not effective for strategy communication in the absence of an overall communication. Not only would it be inefficient to address a larger team or organization one by one. The team would also not have the benefit of hearing the same message, using the same words at the same time. So I’d use one-on-ones only in combination with one or multiple means of team communication.
Informal conversations are casual encounters among two or more people outside of formal work settings. These can be joint meals, such as lunches or dinners, social events, or simply the proverbial watercooler or elevator chats.
The thing is that informal conversations typically take place among family members and friends or persons with a strong, trustful bond. The hallmark of an informal conversation is a high level of openness and vulnerability, frankness and candor. Because informal talks are less concerned with upkeeping of formality and professionalism, communication is often more emotional and direct. It is in these conversations that information is shared in its purest and often most honest form.
The trust needed for informal conversations is of course not built in an instant. I do not walk up to a person and say “let’s have an informal conversation”. It is when the trust exists that an informal conversation can take place. In such cases, it can be a great additional means of transporting sensitive, emotional and impactful information.
More importantly however, informal conversations are important opportunities to listen, seek feedback and clarify concerns.
As a leader in the business, be open and available for formal and informal communications alike to fully reach the people in your team. Capture their thoughts and their feelings when speaking about strategy and the direction of the business.
Story / Fairytale
“Once upon a time…” Didn’t we just love story time as children?
Good stories make us feel good and take us on a journey to… dare I say… a land far, far away. Stories are emotional. They capture our imagination and are very memorable.
Harvard professor Marshall Ganz explains in his work on Public Narrative that stories can create meaning in ways that connect human emotions and thereby move people to action4. Stories communicate in live experiences and not in abstract terms and principles. This makes information personable, relatable, and memorable.
We remember things better when we hear them in story form, also because the chemical oxytocin is released in our bodies when we hear a good story. That is the same chemical which is released when we feel trust, love, and kindness. That’s why good stories make us feel good.
In business likewise, storytelling can be a very effective means of communication.
So, turn your strategy into a story about your business. Imagine what it will look and feel like when your business reaches its destination and achieves its objectives. Write the story down and tell it during meetings, town halls or chance encounters.
And with your story, capture your audience and move people to action.
Turn the story about your business and about your strategy into a video or a mini movie!
In education, researchers have found that including visual content in the learning and teaching curriculum can help students better engage with the materials, increase retention by 29-42%, and develop higher order thinking skills3. Visual learning begins when graphs, images, and illustrations appear alongside words, numbers, and text.
Visual-spatial learning, as it is called, doesn’t stop after school. In worklife, visual learning is just as important to capture complex information and subject matter. And business strategy can be such a complex topic.
Videos are a great way to make complex information more approachable and understandable. Video gives the opportunity to explain and visually depict information and tell a story. Video is thereby a powerful way to communicate to create understanding.
But use video to communicate your strategy? Absolutely! Video communication does not need to be expensive and does not need to be complex. From creating a simple doodle to filming a story about your strategy, there are fun ways to make video content engaging and understandable.
Be creative! You might even be able to recruit your colleagues to act out what it may look like to succeed with your strategy. Short video clips may be sufficient to communicate the key aspects of your strategy.
There’s one more benefit of video. Once the video exists, it can be used time and again to reinforce key messages as well.
So, I think you can tell that I am a fan of video content. There is a reason why YouTube is so successful after all.
In an age dominated by digital communication, such as emails, PowerPoints, podcasts, and tweets (and might I highlight that you are likely reading this on your desktop computer or mobile device), we hold less and less physical books in our hands.
However there is something to be said about the pleasures and the impact of print.
Granted, print is costly and bad for the environment. All too often printed brochures are handled once and then filed and forgotten – or worse, neglected and tossed.
There are benefits however to reading on paper. According to a recent article summarizing several studies5, the benefits of printed books are numerous.
- Reading in print helps absorb more information
- Print is easier on the eyes
- Print helps remain focused and become less distracted
- Print simply amplifies the joy of reading
So when communicating strategy, consider including a printed handbook as part of your communication package.
A strategy handbook could take the form of a colorful, printed booklet that summarizes in easy to understand terms the most important aspects of your vision, your mission, your objectives and strategic choices.
A strategy handbook could also include background information, market insights, external references or inspirations, and your story. Again, there are no boundaries to your creativity and what a strategy handbook could look like. Make it visually appealing and a strong representation of your business and what you are looking to achieve.
Remember those good old pin boards in your office? Yes, those boards with pins that gave Pinterest its name. They seem from a different day and age, don’t they? Colorful pin boards in places where people come together can however be an attractive means to capture attention and communicate information.
What might a strategy board then look like?
Imagine a white board, black board or pin board in the cafeteria, pantry or break room of your workplace. Imagine this board holding information about your strategy, the direction of the business, its objectives, progress, and achievements. Not so hard to imagine…
Such a board could however be a very engaging communicator when frequently updated. Studies have shown that we tend to overlook information that is static and blends into our day-to-day routines. We notice however when things change in areas that are common and known to us. This is where a strategy board can be appealing.
Besides holding constant information such as the vision or mission statements of the business that tend to placate the walls of offices these days, a strategy board would enable updating and keeping employees current on latest developments in the business.
Again, be creative. Use color. Make content attractive. You may consider depicting the strategy in a visual way and keep updating and adding information as you implement and make progress.
And as a bonus idea, allow people to update the board with their contributions, achievements and ideas. That keeps the information current and engaging and makes people come back to check for updates.
Regular strategy newsletter
Although I wouldn’t recommend email as the primary means to communicate your strategy, a regular strategy newsletter would be an exception.
A regular monthly or quarterly email from the business leader highlighting the progress made on your journey to implement your strategy and deliver results could actually be quite powerful.
Such a newsletter could be an opportunity to reiterate what is important to the business and why it’s important. It could highlight specific achievements and give credit to teams and celebrate successes.
As often stated, implementing a strategy is a marathon and not a sprint. It is not uncommon though that a new strategy is presented with great fanfare and shortly afterwards the business returns to its daily routines and urgencies.
In that context a regular update straight from the business leader keeps the strategy implementation in perspective.
If you are considering to launch a regular newsletter, consider to include the following:
- An overview of the strategic priorities
- A dashboard highlighting key figures and progress with strategy implementation
- A reminder why you are in business: I.e. your purpose, vision and mission
- A visualization of the destination of your business
- Highlights and achievements from the time period since the previous newsletter
- Lowlights or challenges from the previous period and how they are being addressed
- Outlook and priorities for the months ahead
- A call to action: e.g. information or an illustration how colleagues can engage with the strategy and contribute to its achievement
- A few candid, personal words from the business leader such as words of gratitude or a personal experience related to the strategy.
A strategy newsletter does not need to be long or a lot of work to create. The key is to regularly check-in on progress, engage with the team, and keep the strategy and its implementation top of mind.
After all, everything you do, should be tied directly or indirectly to the strategy and helping the company achieve its objectives.
Use a one-page strategy framework
In any and all of your strategy communication, simplify key aspects of your strategy into a concise and easy-to-understand summary. In my experience, nothing is more confusing and demotivating than a 100-page Powerpoint deck that goes into all the details.
On the contrary, a clean, concise overview that introduces key aspects of your strategy such as where you are headed and how you are going to get there creates clarity and engagement.
One strategy framework that can help to depict the entire strategy on a single page is the OGSM.
OGSM stands for Objective, Goals, Strategies, and Measures. It is a one-page business plan that shows what the business aims to achieve and how it’s going to achieve it.
The OGSM framework is both a methodology to create a strategic plan and also an effective tool to communicate the strategy and drive implementation. In short, the OGSM is a great way to simplify your strategy and deliver results.
Consider including the one-page OGSM framework in your communication package or hanging it on your strategy board.
These are our 12 creative ways to enhance communication of your strategy to your employees. A strategy well communicated is a strategy well understood. And with greater clarity and understanding, the organization has a greater chance to succeed at implementing the strategy and delivering results.
As I have learned during my many years in business, when it comes to strategy, you cannot over-communicate.
Now over to you. What additional creative ideas do you have to communicate your strategy? Let us know or drop a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
- “Strategy Implementation, 2016 Survey Results” by Bridges Business Consultancy Int Pte Ltd (2016). http://www.implementation-hub.com/resources/implementation-surveys
- “Why Good Strategies Fail – Lessons for the C-Suite” by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013. https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/why-good-strategies-fail-report.pdf
- “Why Visual Learning and Teaching” by Dr. Susan Daniels (2019). http://www.insightresources.org/2019/04/26/why-visual-learning-and-teaching/
- “Public Narrative” by Marshall Ganz. https://workingnarratives.org/article/public-narrative/