Are your strategy signs confusing?

A few months ago I posted a sign from a local bagel shop that I just thought was humorous and a little confusing.  I have a hobby, born with the acquisition of my first iPhone oh so many years ago, of snapping pictures of signs that make me laugh.

It occurred to me last week as I walked through a client’s offices and looked at the signs on the various walls and cubical divider that we often send confusing, unclear, or even funny signs to employees about strategy. Strategy is tough to articulate in non-tactical terms, and much of the value of ‘doing strategy work’ comes in the discussions people have while debating, discussing, and setting strategic direction.  It can be hard to translate all of that experience into a simple diagram. In the last few years we’ve seen ‘journey maps’, graphical renderings, and colorful cartoons or videos take the place of the powerpoint ‘boxes on a slide’ approach. For some people, those approaches work great, for others not so much so, as is true with most types of communication.

I’ve come to believe that for communicating strategy, diversity is critical. Posters with colorful adventures on them showing airports or race tracks or hiking trails are great. So are linear boxes on pages and everything in-between.  The challenge is that you need different versions to connect with different people, but the story behind them needs to be the same. So focus on the storyline – what’s the narrative you want everyone to absorb and know about the pictures you are creating? That narrative is what will be used to contextualize anything you put out there, so getting it right is critical to engaging employees in a common strategic direction.

Be cautious of over investing in the artifacts and under investing in the narrative. Part of why I’ve seen clients do exactly that is simple – the artifact creation can be largely outsourced, but understanding the narrative requires executives to spend time learning the message. By extension, it also requires executives to align with the narrative, because they need to speak it out loud over and over as consistently as possible, so it exposes any remaining personal agendas or disagreements.  But let’s face it – if those exist, the strategy probably won’t work anyway, so you may as well get them out on the table.

Video is a great way to coach executives to share narratives – having executives essentially do practice sessions similar to a practice interview that gets filmed and reviewed is a meaningful way to help create consistency in the narrative. People might not like it, but it will get results around a critical investment you’ve made in developing your strategy – don’t let all the hard work and expense go to waste just because people don’t like to be coached on how to explain things!  Try it and see what happens….

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