Try asking the colleague next to you what your company’s values are.
Then ask them what the company’s DNA is.
And top it all off by having them recite the company’s strategy – preferably in the form of a core story.
How did that go? Did they have the answers readily available? Yes – because you are of course completely up to date on values, DNA, strategy and core story yourself, right?
No, I can quite honestly understand if neither you nor your colleague know or remember these somewhat starry-eyed, but no doubt very well-intentioned, bits of prose. However, I am pretty sure they exist. They are definitely somewhere on the intranet. Perhaps alongside some fancy graphics as well.
And they are probably quite happy there. After all, to live happily is to live hidden, as the French say.
And that might well be the end of this article. The message could be: just let your strategic narratives and values live their own hidden lives, and take of your day-to-day work.
But that is not the message! In fact, the message is this: Strategic narratives, DNA and values are important! They play a central role in the success of the business and in employee satisfaction. But only if they are pulled out of the darkness and into the light. To live.
That is what this article is about. How do we make work with strategy, DNA and values relevant? How do we make it something we DO and not just something executives SAY?
Three phases – one common task
In short, the key to strategic initiatives that create value in inclusion, visibility and communication lies in three phases: creation, launch and continuation. For convenience, I will assume that it is a strategy that we need to bring to life. But you can just replace the word strategy with DNA, core story or values. The same approach will be valuable whichever piece of paper needs life breathed into it, transforming it into behaviour.
In the sections below, you will read some good advice about how to make a strategy that is living, relevant and meaningful in all phases of its existence.
The strategy’s creation
A very common mistake is that a strategy is created in a boardroom. Possibly with the participation of the head of the development department and a few external management consultants. Diagrams are created, lines are drawn and Post-It notes cover walls or boards. The note on the outside of the door reads “Shhhh”. The executive board is immersed in the creative process.
And that is all well and good. Of course, the executive board needs to have a creative process, but that cannot stand alone. Some good pieces of advice for this phase are:
- Tell the whole organisation that strategy work has commenced, and tell them why it matters
- Set up local workshops where individual departments can provide their input for the strategy
- Establish a group with representatives from across the organisation whose task it is to make recommendations and provide input for the strategy
- Ensure ongoing communication in the creative process (blogs, vlogs, photos, management communication, intranet, company app, etc.)
The strategy’s launch
This is typically the phase management does best. Most companies are aware that making a post on the intranet under “news from the executive board” is not enough. And fortunately enough, executive board members are often proud of and happy with the work they have produced and want to showcase their creation. So top management arranges a joint meeting, which large companies can broadcast to all the company’s locations in Denmark and abroad. The Communications Department prepare material that managers can use when they must subsequently communicate the strategy locally. And managers may even have been tasked with organising local workshops, where each department discusses the strategy and defines its role and share in it.
All excellent stuff. But perhaps the following tips might provide an extra boost for the launch:
- Make the launch concrete by explaining what the strategy will mean specifically to the company and to the employees’ way of working (provide examples, tell stories, show photos).
- Be careful not to use consultant/management-type words that come off as hot air (e.g. adaptable, agile, professionalisation, efficiency, mentality, competencies) – do everyone the favour of telling them what lies behind the words. What exactly do they mean? How will they translate into action?
The strategy’s continued life
Here we have the difficult phase. The launch confetti has fallen, and news of the strategy is no longer on the intranet’s front page. Now comes the long haul. We need to ensure that everyone is actually working strategically and taking the business in the direction defined by the strategy. And here, sadly, I will be the bearer of discouraging news from the world of research. A study by Aarhus University in Denmark (Hildebrandt & Brandi) shows that 7 out of 10 projects that are intended to create change will fail. 7 out of 10 projects that are intended to create change never make it to the finish line… In other words, something is going wrong – as happens too often, good intentions remain just that: intentions.
As the researchers from Aarhus University also point out, the solution can be found in the communication efforts. And the Communications Department is not the only one that needs to keep up the pace here. Communication from both senior management and local managers is absolutely essential if the strategy is to flourish on a daily basis.
Good advice for this phase is:
- Top management must take every opportunity to integrate the strategy into their communication. Newsletters/videos, tours, communication of other stories – get the strategic milestones in as a natural component.
- Top management must remember that although the strategy might be old news to them, it still requires persistent communication on their part to maintain its importance.
- Local managers must also take every opportunity to connect the strategy with daily work. Not only as soapbox speeches, but also in the daily back-and-forth and when attending meetings with employees.
- The Communications Department must keep the ball rolling, continuously ensuring the common identity. Use stories that show the strategy is being translated into action (e.g. videos with interviews, storytelling, reports, quizzes on the intranet, etc.)
- Define milestones and launch measurable initiatives so that employees can celebrate when goals are reached.
- Remember to celebrate! Acknowledge when the strategy bears fruit.
Our actions are what matters – and words become actions
To succeed with DNA, strategy, core stories and values, it is important to realise that the words and phrases used are worthless on their own. Only when they are translated into action do they make a difference. Because that is when they can be recognised by employees, citizens, customers and partners. And that’s what we want to achieve, isn’t it? The tangible value.
You can’t achieve that without effort. Effort is required – and the advice above is testament to that. With effort, benefits and profits become all the greater too.