Engaging Strategy

Rhetoric - sThe only point of strategy its execution…

Many of us are heading towards a new financial year, which means new plans, new budgets and critically, a new opportunity to refine and re-engage the strategy.

Any strategy is pointless if it can’t be delivered, and the key to delivery is having everyone aligned and engaged, not merely with the tasks they need to perform, but with the objectives you want to achieve – and not just the “what” and the “how”, but also the “why”.

The best way to engage any strategy is to talk about it, regularly and repeatedly, in a way everyone can understand and relate to, and you will almost certainly have no shortage of opportunity.

Most leaders probably average around four or five meetings a day, at least four or five days a week. That’s 20 meetings a week; 1,000 meetings a year.

That means every leader in your organisation will have 1,000 opportunities to engage your strategy in the course of the coming year.

Which in turn means it’s probably worth spending a little bit of time just thinking about the words, phrases, and stories that you want to share in all those conversations, and how you can make them simple, memorable, and relevant to each audience.

So, here are my three top tips for crafting your strategy messages.

1. Use sets of three

Great things come in threes. Whether it’s Lincoln’s government “of the people, by the people, for the people” or Roosevelt’s advice on speaking: “be sincere, be brief, be seated”, when a statement is delivered in three pithy and punchy parts, it’s easier on the ear, simpler to remember, and considerably more impactful than it would otherwise be.

In rhetoric this is called Tricolon. In strategy it might take the form of three priorities: like “simpler processes, better services, faster outcomes”. Each of these might then be broken down into three further priorities. Anyone can remember three lots of three, but six or seven unrelated items? No chance.

2. Use similar sounds

From soldiers learning camouflage (shine, shadow, shape, sound and silhouette) to trainees learning marketing (place, product, price, promotion and people), a simple set of similar sounds makes an instant aide-memoir. It’s called Alliteration, and you’ll find examples peppered throughout most of the great songs, speeches, and soliloquies – Dr. King used it over 30 times in his “I have a dream” speech, from “dignity and discipline” to “the content of their character”.

Julius Caesar’s “Veni, vedi, vici” combined alliteration and tricolon to memorable effect, and so can you. Quite simply, the easier the strategic priorities are to remember, the more chance there is of everyone focusing on their delivery.

3. Tell a relatable story

The most important element of communicating a strategy is to make it real and accessible for people on the ground. This means creating a narrative, and telling a story. Using examples and phrases from their day-to-day environment, things with which they are intimately familiar, picking out events and achievements and showing how they relate to the key priorities.

Many years ago, Richard Baker, the incoming CEO of Boots the Chemist, identified the customer experience in-store as one of his strategic priorities. Over the following year he frequently told the story of one particular store visit his Director of Stores, Alex: “We were talking through the store layout when Alex noticed a queue building up at the tills. He cut me off mid-sentence, jumped on a spare till and spent the next fifteen minutes serving customers until the queue was cleared, and he was absolutely right to do so.”

I recalled this particular episode in a recent article I wrote for my commercial sector clients, and was amazed at how many of my ex colleagues who were there at the time not only remembered it, but wrote to me to remind me of his other stories too.

Stories stick, so use them.

These three classic rules of rhetoric are not hard to follow; they cost nothing more than some thought and practice; and they can be used over and over again, in every briefing, every meeting and every interaction with the people you meet.

When you consider the time, effort, and cost that goes into developing a strategy, why wouldn’t you give a least as much thought to how it gets engaged?

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