Communicating strategy, what the gurus shared

On 26 June 2015 we held an Ask the Guru event in Manchester. Committee members Hannah Thoresby, Gemma McCall and Advita Patel organised the event and Advita has kindly shared some of the key points form the discussion with us here. Over to Advita:

Advita Patel

Advita Patel

On Thursday evening, 15 communicators gathered at the second Ask The Guru event to be held in the Manchester, to find out top tips from ‘gurus’ on how strategy can be embedded into an organisation successfully.

Understand your audience

The evening was kicked-off by Jon Bonnick, Communications Director from BAE who spoke passionately about removing management speak and keeping it simple. At BAE they summarised a 40-page strategy document onto a four page A5 leaflet and ensured that they had various toolkits available for different audiences which ranged from DVDs to slide decks. “If you can’t understand the audiences you are working with, don’t attempt trying to communicate your strategy,” was one of Jon’s key take-aways.  Jon was also keen to point out that in order for strategy to be meaningful in the organisation, leaders need to buy into it and remember “Head, Hearts and Hands!” At BAE the MD’s blog, which he writes himself, always connects back to one of the four pillars of their strategy, therefore keeping it real and meaningful to his audience.

To get leaders on board you need to get them on side by understanding the people within your organisation

Following Jon was Liam FitzPatrick, author of one of my favourite books and a must have for anyone interested in Internal Communications: Internal Communications – A Manual Guide for Practitioners. Liam shared the same thoughts as Jon and was also keen to reiterate that in order to get leaders on board you need to get them on side by understanding the people within your organisation – without this knowledge you will struggle to embed anything successfully.

He went on to speak about five key areas you need to be aware of when communicating strategy:

  • Awareness
  • Understanding
  • Excitement
  • Capability
  • Celebration

Liam highlighted that something Internal Communicators often excel in is doing ‘stuff’ but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Liam, rightly pointed out, that if doing ‘stuff’ doesn’t lead to the audience understanding what you are trying to do then what is the point?

He then moved on to explain ‘Understanding’ further which he said isn’t often in our control and, it usually sits with management.  He spoke about needing to spend the most time ensuring that leaders understand exactly what the message is and how they (not you!) are going to communicate back to their people.  Once understanding has been nailed you can move onto creating excitement, this is where you can be creative and sell your story.  Liam ended his session with three questions you need to consider when communicating your strategy: “Does it make sense?”  “Has anyone else done it before?” and “What do I need to do with it?”

Often leaders forget that whilst they’ve had a while to develop, create and spend time getting to know the strategy their teams haven’t

Ending the 90 minute session was our very own CIPR Committee Member, Hannah Thoresby from H&H internal comms and engagement agency, who kindly stepped in when one of the original speakers had to cancel due to ill health. Hannah started her session by telling the group that at H&H they no longer call it ‘Strategy’ and it’s all about the ‘Gameplan’ as the word strategy seems to create fear in some people.  Hannah explained that as an agency they value some form of indication from leaders on which direction the organisation would like to go in as this helps create a sense of understanding on the future of the business.  She pointed out that often leaders forget that whilst they’ve had a while to develop, create and spend time getting to know the strategy their teams haven’t, so they need to take in account the time it will take for the strategy to be fully embedded in the business and for their people to understand.

Hannah also spoke about how uncomfortable it can be for an individual to try and re-train their brain into a new way of thinking and referred to the Simon Sinek Model “Start With Why’ Simon did a great TedTalk a few years ago which is well worth a watch.

Hannah went on to speak about ‘Engagement Magic’ and highlighted three key components to consider when you want to embed strategy across the business: Clear guidance and sense of direction, Inspiring leadership and Employees feeling informed/listened to and involved. When it comes to shaping the vision Hannah highlighted that leaders need to be involved and be visible from the beginning. You also need to consider various tools and channels that are available to make your strategy stand out which can range from having a strategy map, board games to augmented reality posters – one size doesn’t always fit all.

Ensure that you have the leadership team on board by wowing them with your knowledge of the audience you are communicating with

I thoroughly enjoyed this Ask The Guru session and I took lots of thoughts away with me. One common theme between all speakers was ensuring that you have the leadership team on board by wowing them with your knowledge of the audience you are communicating with. I personally know how hard it can be at times getting out into the operation, especially when you are working in a small team or have a big project to complete. However, I treat my walkabouts as urgent meetings and  I was always try to get out at least once a week which really helps when I need to get leaders onboard with a ‘creative’ idea!

I hope you all enjoyed this brief summary, we are planning to have more Ask The Guru events in Manchester, so if there are any topics that you are interested in then you can get in touch via CIPR Inside or tweet either myself @advita_p, @Gezzabelle or @HannahofHandH.

Thank you to all our speakers for giving up some of their time and sharing their great insights, also a big thanks to Manchester Business School’s Natalie Rodgers who kindly provided us the venue and finally to all our wonderful participants.

 

If you attended the event please do feedback here and tell us what you thought in our very short feedback survey.

To view the tweets of the day check out our storify here.

 

Image credit: Featured image, Splashbase.co. CCO

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