The best strategy will fail, no matter how good it is.
Unless you can communicate it.
I once worked on a team that developed a strategy to completely revolutionize a mining company.
We were about 10 people and we worked in a Johannesburg Ivory tower, while the majority of the company’s employees toiled in dark caves well underground.
Our strategy was good well thought through and was a huge opportunity for the company as a whole.
We just had to get the other 50,000 employees on board.
We needed ideas from around the company, underground and in different offices. We needed to inspire change. We needed everybody to think differently, from the miner at the face to the CEO in the tower.
So, we created beautiful, well thought through PowerPoint slides that we distributed to all of the operations around the world. We asked managers to present our strategy to engage their teams and align behind innovation, creativity and our brave new future.
Our deck landed with a thud.
All around the world managers clicked through slides they didn’t understand explaining a strategy they couldn’t relate to in order to inspire their people to build towards a goal they didn’t share.
You’ve probably been in a presentation like this.
The manager stands up, opens the deck and shows a slide. “Here we have production history.”
“Here is the revenue slide.”
<<next slide>> and
“here is the plan” and on and on until the snoring from the guy at the back of the room signals it is time for lunch.
We got exactly zero reaction. Nobody was interested. Nothing changed.
We realized our mistake pretty early on.
We ourselves were responsible for the local presentations and after clicking through our slides we’d ask our audiences to name our most pressing challenges and objectives. Three quarters had no idea. Of those who did know the objectives, they didn’t know the detail well enough to inspire others or engage them in any meaningful way.
This is when we realized that we needed to think about our presentation and how we were doing it.
The solution was in the story. We realized we had to create stories that people could understand and relate to on their own.
Clearly not a job for PowerPoint.
So, we developed short presentation videos that we shared through internal channels. We talked about need to create a business that was thriving. We made them the hero in making the business work and gave them a pathway to do this.
In order to get managers on board we sent them a DVD of videos with a bag of microwavable popcorn and a short letter, just asking them to take a look at the videos and to distribute as they saw fit.
We empowered everybody, and our message went through the company like a flame through gasoline. People were interested, they were engaged. They watched the three-minute videos. It became a viral phenomenon within the company.
As a result, we were able to start the process of change. We developed new processes and new technologies and from a staid mining company created a culture of innovation that helped to drive down cost and drive up productivity.
But it wasn’t the strategy that made this happen it was the way we communicated the strategy. A good strategy with poor communication is a waste of PowerPoint slides. A well communicated strategy is a gold mine.