The Weak Link in Communicating Strategy

A lot of effort goes into explaining strategy to shareholders and industry watchers, but that’s only one of at least three audiences who need to hear about it. Another of the three stories you must tell is that to your talent (the third is to customers). Why is it vital for your people to get the strategy, especially as it changes?

  • to reduce ambiguity for people in uncertain situations – reducing ambiguity is right at the heart of strategic leadership.
  • to guide front-line staff at moments of truth – should they acquiesce to a non-standard customer request, or not? Should they incur a cost to put something right, or not? Should they escalate an issue, or deal with it quickly themselves?
  • to direct sales efforts appropriately – ever introduced a hot new product or service only to find that sales people don’t sell it? They don’t seem to realise why it’s important to put effort into it instead of the old stuff?
  • to streamline debate about resource allocation, rather than having managers fight over resources or optimise their local performance to the detriment of the overall business.

Many employees don’t really understand how what they do relates to the overall strategy. Have a look at the diagram.




















Results follow from actions, actions from decisions. How do you make the link so that decisions people make are in accordance with your strategic intentions? One part of the puzzle: vivid stories and word-pictures. There are at least five types:

  • ‘War Stories’ or anecdotes about moments of truth: FedEx famously has loads of stories about heroic efforts to deliver parcels – these stories provide role models by proxy.
  • Make values come alive: One professional services firm made energetic efforts to illustrate its new list of values by finding real examples. In the case of client service, it found and spread the story of clients who got lost on the way to a meeting and were rescued personally by an associate who drove out to them and led them back to the firm’s office.
  • Vivid Metaphors: One Japanese car manufacturer (Honda if memory serves) coordinated a design team by having them think of all design elements as fitting for “A rugby player in a dinner jacket.”
  • Rallying Cries: Honda again. This time in their motorcycle war with Yamaha where they galvanised staff with the shout: “Yamaha wo tsubusu!” – essentially “Slaughter Yamaha!” – not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but effective!
  • Get your customers to help with testimonials for internal consumption: Customer videos can communicate  to your people more vividly than any PowerPoint presentation.

The bottom line: People in all roles can only decide and act appropriately if they are clear on how your strategic objectives are meant to play out in the real world– leaders need to communicate that as a priority.