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How do we make sure that our mission, vision and strategy are memorable and understood?  How do we make them sticky, so they stay in peoples’ minds?

Making strategy memorable

In the book, Made to stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, there is a lovely example of how to create stories that are concrete for people.

The problem they highlight is that much language is abstract, ad I would add, especially in management.  Of course, ironically, management is also quite an abstract word.  For instance if you are told to manage better, you have almost no idea what specifically is meant?  What specific new behaviour is the person looking for?  You don’t have a chance.  Expressions such as “world class customer service”, “being number one in the industry” and “Engaging the customer” are all just as abstract.

Chip and Dan Heath, use a great example.  They ask the reader to first spend 2 minutes writing down as many things that are white as they can.  Try it.

Then they ask you to do a second exercise.  They ask you to write down as many thing as you can that are white, within your refrigerator.

Make the mission, vision, strategy concrete

They point out that many people find the second task easier, even though the fridge is not the most common place for white things. This is because the task is more concrete, and being concrete mobilises the brain.  I suspect that if you were successful with the first task you hones in on something to start with and worked from there.  You made it concrete before you started listing things.

You can do the same with your mission or vision or strategy by created what they call a “shared turf”, what I would call “common ground” or simply making things concrete.  I see this a lot with customers as examples.   What you do is to tell the story of the  mission vision or strategy with reference to something, or someone that is easy to relate to.  One car hire company chief executive told his call centre staff to imagine it was their grandmother on the end of the phone (It was appropriate in their context and industry).  A Chief  Executive I interviewed last week used an individual’s customers’ journey to engaging them to tease out what a new approach meant for the organisation and how it needed to respond.  In another case the example of a project with a particular organisation was used as the concrete example of how the big management consultancy was to change the way it thought about engagements.   In every example the wider mission, vision and strategy is being explained through concrete examples.  Concrete examples that are easy to relate to.

Making strategy memorable: what it actually feels like

One of the points of this approach is to give people a tangible experience of what “good” or “Management” feels like.  If you start to treat customers on the end of the phone “Like your grandmother” you start to build up experiences and a common experience of what that means.  People can relate to that.  Starting with Excellent customer service gives people no concrete reference point nor any shared experience.  It can mean too much to any one person, let alone a team or an entire organisation.  So you can see how stories help this process.

What can we do about vague mission, vision and strategy statements.  Immediately follow them with examples, stories and reference points that provide that concrete common ground.  That way people can start to build up their understanding of that new way of working and share it amongst others.  They remove the vagueness for you, once you give them the fridge from which to work.