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Story + Strategy Workshop in Cleveland on June 24

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The Picture Tells the Story of the Story

Over on Anecdote’s blog, I shared the story of one of my meetings with Bono from U2. I’m told that the picture that accompanies the story “speaks a thousand words,” so rather than say anything else, head over there and see for yourself.

Strategy Dies in the Forgotten Middle Layer of Management


photo by Kumar Appaiah / CC BY

Middle management is where well-intentioned business strategy goes to die.

Harvard Business Review took a thoughtful look at the strong connection between communicating management intent and achieving business success. It seems the why often gets lost in communications. It makes no sense, until you consider that mid-level managers play an important (yet under-appreciated role) translating corporate strategy, goals, and policies into specific tasks for their teams.

Remember that these people weren’t in the board room when the decisions were made and the strategy was set, but they are ultimately responsible for making or breaking a corporate initiative. They will either take the big idea and make it reality, or the grand plans will wither and die a slow death at their hands.

Their power lies in their position as the translator of concrete ideas to actionable tasks. Dictating from above doesn’t work because employees respond to and have a deeper connection with the person to whom they directly report.

When I was with SAP in Europe, Middle East and Africa, we asked a sample of the 11,000 employees how they received most of their information. They said: their manager. We asked how they preferred to get corporate information. They said: their manager. We asked how they wanted to receive information in the future. They said: their manager.

The direct manager of every employee is the preferred communications method. Fancy intranets, newsletters, or bulletin boards will never replace this human interaction with the single person who holds the key to determining an employee’s level of job satisfaction, performance and accomplishment, and level of compensation and career advancement.

Managers are wise to acknowledge this and determine how to leverage their influence. Too many managers remove emotion from their interactions with employees, which dulls their ability to be influential. Instead of thinking of business strategy as a fact-driven directive, managers have the power to bring it to life by creating an emotional connection to the future state the strategy will reveal.

Only robots perform tasks without comprehending why they’re necessary, what came before, and what will come next in the process. Employees are not robots and they are unable to operationalize a strategy unless they are armed with a fundamental understanding of their role in its execution.

Good managers know exactly what speaks louder than words. Observed actions are not only modeled by the team, but they also trigger stories that move rapidly through the organization. Whether the story is a retelling of bad or good behavior, the decision-making and actions of  employees will be influenced.

Stories are sort of like implanting a programmable chip in employees’ minds. Annette Simmons noted, “Story is like mental software that [managers] supply so that [employees] can run it later using new input specific to the situation…..Once installed, a good story replays itself and continues to process new experience through a filter, channeling future experiences toward the perceptions and choices you desire.” Stories turn employees into independent thinkers and eliminate the need to micromanage.

Managers who step up to their role in strategy execution will likely find themselves elevated to a position where they are in the room next time big decisions are made. So forget implanting a microchip in employees’ heads or replacing them with robots. Instead, tell a story or do something remarkable that triggers a story and watch an abstract strategy come to life before your eyes.


A tale of year-end lists: managers should put the wishes of employees on their to do lists


Photo by katrha/CC BY

In a guest post on Sean Williams’ CommunicationsAMMO blog near the end of 2012, I advised management to be on their best behavior and improve employee engagement.

Putting Management on the Nice List

It’s the time of year when we’re all making our lists and checking them twice. A recent stop at the rental car counter gave me a peek at what me employees have on their wish lists.

While waiting for my keys, I overhead a customer point out that a policy was being implemented differently at another branch. The employees didn’t argue the point; instead they were eager to comply, but also quick to lament that management hadn’t shared the information with them. From the sounds of the conversation, this wasn’t the first time management had failed to convey a policy change.

The employees seemed disappointed, frustrated and a little embarrassed. They were earnestly trying to provide excellent customer service, but they felt doomed to fall short of a standard set by the leadership.

The rental car company is far from alone. “Tell us what you’re doing, so we know what we should be doing,” is a cry from employees that doesn’t get heard at the highest levels of many organizations.

Employees want to be a part of the solution, but if they don’t know the reasons for policies, procedures and initiatives, their hands are tied when it comes to execution. Employees need to know the why so they can have confidence in their role.

Management can give employees what they really want by making a list of its own. Instead of a wish list, it’s a to-do list that will make the business strategy the guide for of every person in every corner of the organization.

• Share the rationale for the strategy – don’t shield employees from harsh realities.
• Personalize the strategy for individuals, teams, regions, business units and functional areas.
• Put measurements in place and celebrate progress.
• Tell stories of all types of employees demonstrating the model behaviors.
• Encourage employees to contribute ideas within the framework of the strategy, and then implement them.

Your business strategy is powerful. It can motivate, inspire and guide everyone in the organization. Used correctly, the strategy can help management build trust, remove barriers, and protect the brand. When employees understand the strategy, they will be empowered to set priorities and execute consistently.

What else should be on management’s to-do list to make employees’ wishes list come true?

The Dotted Line: Government Relations and Engagement

dot gov - government internet domainThis issue of The Dotted Line features news + resources for creating a government relations program that increases employee engagement.  A full version is available online. Subscribe to receive future issues in your inbox.

Government Relations
State and federal policies that impact your business also personally affect your employees (but they might not know it). The tools of government relations – education, advocacy, political action committees (PACs) and thought leadership – can be leveraged to increase employee engagement.
At a time when voters feel more disconnected from their elected officials than ever, why not create a government relations program that engages employees in the political process and in the issues that matter most to the company?

Employees aren’t just your best brand ambassadors, they are also your best advocates. This study from Melcrum details how some of the smartest companies empower employees to be both.

Assess the degree of engagement present in your organization with this short quiz.

A connected government relations program could help you boost the score.

Exemplary Public Affairs
The best practice, exhibited by Shell, is to start with a clearly defined legislative agenda,  then find a variety of ways for employees to participate.

Reputation, legislative impact and employment engagement collide in this robust program.

When interacting with government officials, a Connected Strategy:
– puts a face on your business concerns
– empowers employees to become advocates
– aligns internal and external messages

and more…

The Dotted Line: Culture and Innovation

24e26d039d32b6d194102a79_280x279The May 2013 issue of The Dotted Line features news + resources for creating a culture of innovation. A full version is available online. Subscribe to receive future issues in your inbox.

It’s not enough for innovation to be a part of your strategy. It’s also not enough to have a few people in the R&D department, or a C-level innovation officer, who are solely tasked with innovating.
Culture trumps strategy when it comes to ensuring that new ideas continuously flow and are diligently implemented in your organization.  Therefore, create a culture of innovation that involves everyone and uncovers the best ideas in your organization.

Just because your entire team is innovating, doesn’t mean added complexity. After all, less is best in innovation.

Leaders don’t necessarily need to be innovators. Instead, they just should get out of the way. Avoid these seven innovation killers.

Exemplary Culture
USAA is known for exceptional customer service, and CEO Joe Robels credits the company’s culture for the success.

If your culture isn’t as renowned as USAA’s, shifting to the culture you want starts at the top of the organization.

If innovation is key to your buiness strategy, then a Connected Strategy will:
– create trust
– inspire ideas
– establish links to the larger goals
and more…

The Dotted Line: M&A and Business Turnarounds

e1363881358.61The April 2013 issue of The Dotted Line features news + resources for managing change and communications during business mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. A full version is available online. Subscribe to receive future issues in your inbox.

Mergers and Acquisitions
Post-merger integration is synonymous with change. All at once, employees, customers, and the public are subjected to new a management team, a modified strategy, a combined culture and a redefined brand. It’s no wonder mergers are more likely to fail than marriages.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Deloitte took a thoughtful look at the hard facts and data behind post merger integrations. Knowing these truths can improve the success of the new venture.

A recent consolidation in the airline industry is a reminder that Day 0 is actually the starting point for years of work.

Re-branding is an obvious next step after a merger or acquisition. A road map can help you navigate this tricky endeavor.

Communicating During Change
Even today’s largest and most profitable companies aren’t guaranteed to be in business forever. (Just ask Arthur Andersen and TWA.)

Businesses are most vulnerable during times of change or crisis. However, managing the flow of information can help you ward off the silent killer of companies.

Mergers aren’t the only way to change the direction of a company. Microsoft has been credited with recently rediscovering its mojo. What can you learn from their six approaches to reinvention?

During M&A activities and business turnarounds, a  Connected Strategy:

– sets priorities
– builds trust
– motivates behavior
and more…

The Dotted Line: Branding

e1365688485.24The May 2013 issue of The Dotted Line features news + resources for branding. A full version is available online. Subscribe to receive future issues in your inbox.

Brands are the public face of companies, but the essence of your brand starts with your team. The true brand ambassadors are the  leaders who steer a strategic course, the managers who set policies, the frontline employees who interact with customers, and the back office staff who attend to the details.
When a corporate brand is disconnected from its promise, the root is likely company culture. Avoid disappointing your customers by watching out for these nine eye-opening disconnects.

Weak brands can also lead to unhappy investors. A McKinsey study highlights the impact strong B2B brands can have on financial performance.

Personal Branding
Branding isn’t just for corporations. With a strong personal brand, you can lead without a powerful title.

Brands in Trouble
Favorite brands like TED can stumble if their raging popularity leads to lack of discipline. Harvard Business Review examines how TED regained control of its brand and the TED experience.

When unveiling a new brand or confronting a brand crisis, a  Connected Strategy:
– sets expectations
– focuses attention
– creates alignment
and more…

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