I am working with the CEO of a division of a rather large publicly listed company at the moment, helping them prepare a presentation to all staff on the new company strategy. Unless I am able to make a significant change, I fear it’s going to be a snooze-fest.

The presentation I have been delivered to work with wouldn’t be out of place 10 or 20 years ago. It’s all there…the vision, the mission, our philosophy. All with action points like, “Drive customer experience” and “Expand & upgrade the capability of XYZ” as well as the billion-dollar sales targets, etc and it’s about inspiring as a bus ticket.

Create a future that inspires, and that’s not found in a Balance Sheet.

Nancy Duarte writes about the need to describe the future state, as opposed to the current state, and the journey to get there. While I am not a believer in this in all cases, I certainly am when a senior executive wants to inspire and motivate his staff.

Personally, I see too many of these strategies put together by very expensive consultants that have never led a team, let alone an organisation. Having a company vision that states “Be our customers’ first choice of XYZ” is not vision, it’s a platitude. No one is going to jump out of bed in the morning, inspired to be the customers first choice about anything. You won’t inspire people with anything found on a Balance Sheet.

When Kennedy was touring NASA after announcing his vision to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, he asked a janitor what his job was. The janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” When a person truly believes in a vision or purpose, and they feel their actions will contribute to it, they will spring out of bed to come to work, they will gladly work overtime, they will be a cause in what the organisation is trying to create. Communicating an inspiring purpose is as critical as that purpose itself. Need proof? Thousands of organisations like Greenpeace, Save the Whales, WWF have millions of people contribute their time for free because of the organisation’s purpose.

When trying to inspire your staff with your freshly minted strategy, or the extension of your current strategy, do not present the strategy details. The purpose of the presentation is to inspire and enrol them in the possibility of the company’s purpose. Everybody wants to belong to an organisation that it sees as making a valuable difference. Customers are more disposed to deal with a company that they see the same way. Shareholders too: the world’s most valuable companies aren’t that way because of their dividends.

Sales and profit figures don’t inspire anyone, unless, maybe you own the business. Sure, they are targets that are necessary to achieve in order to facilitate the organisation’s purpose. “Be our customers’ first choice XYZ” is not a purpose…but it may be a result of it.  I am sure Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google etc. have never had a vision of “Being the customer’s first choice” of anything.

To create a powerful presentation of the company’s future, there are a few things you need to include or exclude:

  1. Sales and profit target are fine, but they are not the end result. They are at best a necessary measure to facilitate the pursuit of the purpose. Include them, but don’t dwell on them.
  2. If your strategy hasn’t created a purpose beyond the balance sheet, it hasn’t created a purpose. A purpose must impact, in a positive way, the common good. What will it strive to be a leader in? Is it a stand for being an employer of choice, an industry leader in environmental responsibility, be a change creator in its industry or even the third world? One thing we are not, these days, is short of issues to call us forward as people and organisations. If all that is important to the leadership team is the Balance Sheet…oh, dear.
  3. Speak about what the company will be like to work for or deal with as it pursues its purpose. Speak of the world it hopes to create, what that world (or industry…whatever you want to impact) would look like. How would people experience that new world?
  4. It has to be about them, not the company. Talk about their contribution and their rewards
  5. Speak about the drivers the company will need to push to make that happen but don’t go into detail. This presentation is not the place, that needs to happen elsewhere(more later). Speak about the values and behaviors necessary to achieve this purpose and what that will look like…don’t say tactical things like “Expand and upgrade the capability of direct sales”.
  6. Talk about their role in creating this, how they can make it come to fruition. What are your expectations of them and what should they expect of the company, their peers, their supervisors and their staff around this purpose.
  7. Make it personal. Use “we”, not “the company”. The company is impersonal and cold, “we” creates a sense of team and belonging.
  8. Finally, and this is critical, invite them to join you on the journey. An invitation shows respect for people and allows choice. People who choose to join you will be far more positive and supportive than those who don’t feel like they had a choice. Those who choose to join you will be far more supportive and defensive of its purpose. They will become advocates of your purpose, both internally and externally.

This presentation is the start of the company’s purpose, not the end. If you just do this, you will probably not have success. You need to follow up and it’s in the follow up that you can go into the detail, whether that be departmental and individual meetings, manual, brochures or booklets. This is a change management exercise after all.

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