6 ways to successfully communicate a new business strategy
Help employees understand what the strategy means to them
Communicating a new business strategy can seem overwhelming. You have to consider every detail, from how to articulate the story to which channels to use. But despite the degree of difficulty, if you communicate effectively, your employees will understand what your new business strategy means and how they can support it.
Use these six approaches for communicating your strategy:
1. Articulate the story
A business strategy is often developed for the senior leadership team or the board of directors; as a result, it’s usually lengthy, complex and filled with technical terms.
But when it’s time to share the strategy with employees, you need to strip away the corporate jargon to make it easily understandable for every member of your organization.
To do so, create a storyline that explains the journey to achieving your company’s objectives. Your inspiration? Daily comic strips! As a writer and editor Tim Stout explains, the three-act comic strip structure provides a framework for simplifying even the most complicated content:
- Act 1: The Beginning. This, explains Stout, “is where information is set up to provide context for the story.”
To establish the need for a new strategy, share what’s happening in your market or industry, where your company is today, and why you need to change.
- Act 2: Next, the Middle describes how “characters attempt to achieve goals and encounter conflict.”
This is where you explain the strategy — how it’s going to work, what employees need to do, and what obstacles you may encounter along the way.
- Act 3: The End, writes Stout, is where you promise a resolution.
What is the vision or desired end state you hope to achieve? Act 3 paints the picture of what your company will accomplish by building the strategy.
2. Capture attention with visuals
Employees spend more than 28% of their working time sending and receiving emails. So make sure your strategy communication doesn’t get lost in the clutter of all those written messages.
Move away from lengthy emails that get ignored and consider this: The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. That’s why you need to make your strategy visual by creating one or more of the following:
- An infographic
- A video — or even better, a series of videos that uses real employees to show how the strategy works
- A slideshow that uses few words (and lots of images) to convey key elements of your strategy
3. Enlist advocates to share the story
By the time your organization is ready to communicate the strategy, senior leaders are comfortable with the content. After all, they’ve been involved in developing the strategy, so they know the ins and outs.
However, when it comes time to share the strategy with the rest of the organization, the mistake that leaders often make is “under communicating by a factor of ten,” writes John Kotter in his classic Harvard Business Review article, Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.
Even if an organization creates a compelling story, writes Kotter, leaders often “communicate it by holding a single meeting or sending out a single message. Having used about .0001% of the yearly intracompany communication, the group is startled that few people seem to understand the new approach.”
To address this issue, consider developing a team of advocates whose role is to communicate the strategy. This team should include leaders, of course, but might also enlist people involved in developing or implementing the strategy.
Strategy advocates can act as change agents to share the strategy throughout the organization, fulfilling such responsibilities as:
- Telling a consistent story
- Customizing content for different functions, regions or locations
- Answering employees’ questions
4. Help managers succeed
For a business strategy to be implemented successfully, managers must feel knowledgeable about the information they are relaying. But in many cases, managers have some understanding of the strategy but feel as out of the loop as employees do.
That’s why you need to invest in managers to build their confidence and prepare them to communicate with their teams:
- Brief managers before the rest of the organization. When you’re rolling out a new program, train managers first. They’ll have the inside scoop and feel knowledgeable enough to answer questions. An efficient way to do this is interactive, web-based briefings.
- Provide FAQs. As mundane as Frequently Asked Questions are, managers find them very helpful. Don’t forget to include the tough questions and avoid corporate speak. Ask real questions that employees would ask, testing your FAQs.
- Create a hub for managers. If your company has an intranet, consider a special section just for managers. A managers’ site is perfect to house resources and builds skills.
5. Communicate progress
When communicating the company strategy, always remember that employees’ biggest concern is: “What’s in it for me?” The best way to answer this, and to enlist employees in the change, is to celebrate small successes throughout the process.
In his Harvard Business Review article, John Kotter explains that employees won’t commit if there are no measurable results within the first 12 to 24 months. For example, if your new strategy will take three years to achieve, be sure to share milestones and achievements whenever possible.
“Establishing visible and more measurable performance improvements and then rewarding employees for achieving those milestones will enhance the corporation’s ability to implement change,” write Kotter.
6. Collect feedback
What’s the most dangerous assumption you can make about communicating your business strategy? That just because you sent an email or held a town hall meeting, employees understand the strategy, believe that it’s the right direction and know how to support it.
The truth is there’s only one way to know that communication has been effective: by getting feedback from employees. Here are three ways to do so:
- Compile employee questions from town halls and other forums. Analyze what employees are having trouble understanding and what they need more information about.
- Field spot surveys after major events or periods of intense communication. Focus your questions on how well communication is meeting employees’ needs.
- Conduct a comprehensive survey after several months. Your primary objective for this feedback should be to determine how well employees understand the strategy. Do employees feel knowledgeable about key aspects? Can they answer questions about the strategy?
Most importantly, use feedback — results to improve communication going forward. That way, you can keep moving projects in your journey to engage employees in your business strategy.