There is an old story about a man who sees three workers laying stones. Curious, he approaches the workers to inquire about their labour. The first worker barely acknowledges the man, only reproaches him: “Are you blind? Any fool can see I am laying stones.” The second worker scarcely pauses, replying curtly, “I’m building a wall. Don’t get in my way.” But the third worker puts down his tools and takes a step back. He proudly surveys his work and announces, “I’m part of the team building a great cathedral.”
Many strategy-makers assume that everyone in the organisation will instantly understand and execute the strategies they define, however research indicates that less than 5 percent of a typical employee group does. It therefore becomes important to ensure every employee understands and is involved in implementing the organisation’s strategy. You can only ensure others’ understanding and involvement if you yourself first make sense of the strategy, identify where and how your team’s work links to and supports it, and then communicate it in meaningful and operational terms so that everyone can conduct their daily business in a way that contributes to the overall success.
The key to effectively communicating the big picture is not necessarily being a great orator. It requires constructing a message that is credible and that engages employees and increases their ability to take action. Constructing such a message may seem a daunting task – it requires generating enthusiasm about and movement toward implementing a strategy that is complex and perhaps only partially understood.
A few guidelines can help to craft a more effective message:
- Simplify the Communication
Organisations and our role in them are complex enough. Provide enough detail in the message to draw a full and accurate picture for listeners, but not so much detail to overwhelm them. Include the reasons for the change as well as a description of the change. Where it is possible, describe what is new in relation to what is familiar, being sure to clarify what is the same and what is different. The goal is to create a sense of meaning and shared understanding.
- Create a Coherent Picture
There are a number of ways to ensure your message is coherent and integrated. Think for example about keeping the theme – in this case, the strategic focus – more prominent than the details. Begin with the strategic focus, making it an organising framework for the rest of the communication. Instead of just listing or describing strategic elements, explain how they relate to the strategic focus, and make sure the linkages among the elements are clear.
- Communicate Relevance
Information that is too abstract or conceptual often feels disconnected from the day-to-day realities of employees. To create relevance, use simple, concrete language. Examples and stories can also be powerful tools for ensuring that abstract or disconnected information is translated into situational information listeners can identify with.