A Simple Story Of Successful Leadership
“But we’ve told them a thousand times….” or words to that effect. We hear this a lot from exasperated executive teams when we give them Inpulse results saying that people don’t know the organisation’s strategy. Often, they have done that, but in ways which fail to register with people, inspire them and help them play their part.
Senior leaders are very close to the strategy and have worked long and hard on getting it right. But this can often be a handicap when it comes to explaining it, and most importantly, getting others fired up and excited. They know too much detail and it’s hard to see the strategy from their audience’s viewpoint. We help by giving an external perspective, and asking the ‘dumb’ questions which can keep it simple. In doing this, we have found 5 key things which help:
- Develop a simple narrative – technical language, management speak, and complex sentences turn people off. On the other hand, most of us respond to stories and find day to day language accessible. We have helped organisations express their strategy through a story with a series of key chapters which take people through the challenges the organization faces, why it’s important to tackle them, what it plans to do, what this means for people working there, why it’s exciting and the benefits of success. All the way through, it’s important to keep it conversational, using everyday language. Any hint of complexity can give people licence to switch off.
- Senior leaders need to show the way – the top team have huge influence. If they present the strategic narrative to other tiers of leaders, it can have a big impact on how they then do things. This is especially the case if the top team can bring parts of the narrative to life using their own stories and experiences. These keep people’s attention, make messages more memorable, and help show that senior leaders are human. Most importantly senior leaders need to keep it conversational, which means no PowerPoint slides… something many find tough at first, but notice the difference in levels of connection and impact afterwards.
- Equip team leaders to share the narrative locally – seeing the top team present the strategy differently will be a strong encouragement to other leaders to do the same. Often, though, they need help to adopt a similar approach themselves. We have found giving team leaders a clear, step by step structured guide helps a lot. We call it Talking Points and it lays out key messages, questions to ask, exercises and activities. The more experienced and confident leaders use it as a reference aid, while the less confident can follow it more closely. Giving this support helps ensure more consistency of approach which will ensure that people across the organization have similar experiences of the strategy. The crucial role that local leaders can play is in bringing the strategy to life for their teams by giving examples that they can recognize and relate to and explaining the implications for them – what they need to do to play their part.
- Help people to share their own stories – as well as understanding what the strategy is, people need to see ongoing evidence that it is being followed, and having an impact. Updates from senior people can only go so far. What really keeps people engaged is a regular stream of stories which show real people doing real jobs applying the strategy and making it work. The challenge here is often not a lack of things worth talking about, rather it is helping people spot them, articulate them and share them. We equip local leaders to help their teams identify a story which will have impact and used Inpulse as a mechanism for them to share them. We found people can be put off if they feel they have to submit long, well written stories. Inpulse restricts the length of submission which means they only need to send the key points and can do so in an easy, straightforward way.
- Keeping it going – strategies need to be living things. To have impact, they must be talked about regularly, and other messages should be linked with it so people get a sense of coherence and progress. Having a simple and clear narrative makes this easier by giving straightforward messages which can be repeated and reflected in other communications – it becomes a consistent point of reference. In addition, we have found having people on the ground locally to champion the strategic narrative, keep it in people’s minds and localize it helps establish it as part of the way an organization does business.