The Chemistry of Strategy tm Newsletter July 22, 2014

Use creative paraphrasing to communicate

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Gerry, the CEO, shared with me her frustration before the company's annual strategic planning meeting. "I've sent memos, told managers what our strategy is, and presented the strategic plan in a company meeting, but people still don't get it. Am I doing something wrong?"

The communication failure wasn't due to a lack of effort on Gerry's part. She was just betting on the wrong communications horse by thinking that lectures alone could do the job. Lectures were how concepts were communicated during her college years, so it's not surprising she would assume they were the appropriate means to educate her employees on the company's all-important strategy.

There have been numerous, peer-reviewed studies that show that the traditional lecture is not an effective way to teach any subject. You can read about the problem with lectures in an article by Emily Hanford. She quotes Professor David Hestenes, now retired from Arizona State University, who pioneered studies of the problem. "Students have to be active in developing their knowledge," he says. "They can't passively assimilate it."

I've found that a presentation approach of "creative paraphrasing" is more effective than lecturing a group. The approach, using PowerPoint slides, works as follows:

1. Present a slide that explains what this element of a strategic plan is all about. (Vision, Mission, Strategy, Strategic Goals, Action Plans.)

2. Present a slide with a company-specific statement about that element from the company's strategic plan.

3. Pick a random audience member and ask them to read the first sentence/part from the slide. Pick another member of the audience to explain what that sentence means. Paraphrase their response "So you're saying ..." -- adjusting your words to move their response closer to what the true intent of the sentence is.

4. Pick other random audience members to read the next sentence/part and explain its meaning.

Repeat these four steps with all the strategic plan's elements.

The only way you know someone truly understands what you’ve just said is to have them repeat it back to you in their own words.

You can sustain and enhance people’s understanding by connecting the dots every time the company achieves a strategic result. “We wouldn’t have beat the competition to market if we hadn’t achieved last year’s strategic goal of streamlining our innovation process!"

Gerry modified her communications approach, including asking people’s thoughts before giving them the “correct” answer. The result was a significant increase in the alignment between the company’s employees and its strategy.

Create a strategic plan with your team

"The single biggest problem in communication
 is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw

A well-facilitated strategic planning process is a proven way to create alignment. First with the executive team as they create the plan and then with the company as the plan gets implemented.
 

How long have you been saying that you will develop your strategic plan, but you haven't yet done so? Why? Perhaps it remains on your to-do list because it feels like a huge, laborious process and you haven't the time to spare to do it. Peak-performing companies have a clearly defined strategic plan…and it doesn't have to take long to create an effective one.

John W. Myrna

is co-founder of
Myrna Associates Inc


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Bernstein's book provides an understanding of just how, when, and why the world became wealthier virtually overnight.  


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