Many of us are moving towards a new financial year, which means new plans, new budgets and critically, a new opportunity to engage the strategy.
Having a great strategy is pointless if it can’t be delivered, and the key to delivering anything in an organisation, is people. Specifically, it’s getting people aligned, and engaged, behind what you need them to do, and the simplest way to engage a strategy with a group of people is to talk to them about it, regularly and repeatedly, and in a way they can understand, interpret, and apply.
So here are three simple Rules of Rhetoric you can use to help make your strategy stick.
1. Use sets of three
As any seasoned speaker will tell you, great things come in threes. Examples range from Benjamin Franklin: "tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn" to Franklin D Roosevelt: "be sincere, be brief, be seated".
When a statement is delivered in three parts it is easier on the ear, simpler to remember, and considerably more impactful than it would otherwise be. In rhetoric this is called Tricolon. In strategy it might take the form of three areas of focus: like making things “better for our customers, simpler for our people and cheaper for our business”. Each of these might then be broken down into three further priorities. Anyone can remember three lots of three, but six or seven unrelated items? No chance.
2. Use similar sounds
From soldiers learning camouflage (shine, shadow, shape, sound and silhouette) to trainees learning marketing (place, product, price, promotion and people), a simple set of similar sounds makes an instant aide-memoir. It’s called Alliteration, and it’s a trick that orator’s have used for centuries. From Caesar: “veni vedi vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) to Kennedy: “let us go forth to lead the land we love”.
Combined with the principle above, this might give a stores team three areas of focus: Serving, Selling and Saving. Quite simply, the easier the strategic priorities are to remember, the more chance there is of everyone focusing on their delivery.
3. Use their frame of reference
The most important element of communicating a strategy is to make it real and accessible for people on the ground. This means creating a narrative, and telling a story. Using examples and phrases from their day-to-day environment, things with which they are intimately familiar, picking out events and achievements and showing how they relate to the strategy.
Many years ago, Richard Baker, the incoming CEO of Boots the Chemist, identified the checkout process as a key part of his store improvement strategy. Over the following year, on many occasions he recalled a particular store visit with the then Director of Stores Alex Gourlay. "We were talking about the store layout when Alex noticed a queue building up at the tills. He cut me off mid-sentence, jumped on a spare till and spent the next fifteen minutes serving customers until the queue was cleared, and he was absolutely right to do so."
Was the story true? Probably not. Did it make his priorities crystal clear for everyone in the organisation? Absolutely.
These three rules aren’t hard to follow. They don’t cost money, just a bit of thought and practice. And they can be used over, and over again, in every briefing, every meeting and every interaction with the people in your business. When you consider the time, effort, and cost that goes into developing a strategy, why wouldn’t you give a least as much thought to how it gets engaged?