An organisation I once worked for invested a great amount of effort in defining its strategic plan every few years. This is obviously an essential activity, especially for a large organisation. Where you have many people carrying out a large range of activities, there can be the tendency for the organisation to get pulled in hundreds of different directions without actually achieving what it wants to.
So instead, a sensible organisation (or its leaders anyway!) stops and takes stock of what they want the organisation to be known for. The organisation tries to clarify the aspirations for the organisation that all staff should seek to strive for. And then the staff knows what they are working towards, how their own work contributes and can make changes accordingly.
The problem here was that no matter how many times I read that strategic plan – and I am the often rather annoying kind of person who does read strategic plans and actually tries to make sure that everything lines up to it – I could not get the headline acts to stick in my head. Two months on, let alone two years on, from the launch of the strategy my explanation of what the organisation prioritised would have been punctuated with way too many umms and errs to be helpful!
My philosophy is that there are three key types of aspirations (the aforementioned headline acts) that it is helpful for an organisation to define.
1. Mission – the universal spiel that everyone from CEO to project manager to system administrator to field worker can give in the elevator.
2. Goals – ideally three to five key aspects of what the organisation wants to achieve that start to make sense of how the organisation accomplishes its mission and give staff more line of sight understanding of how their work contributes to the big picture.
3. Principles – ideally three to five key aspects of what kind of behaviour the organisation will value and want its staff to be known for that will assist the organisation to achieve its mission.
There are other ideas and names for how you can break down and define your organisation’s aspirations, and they will generally be equally valid, but that’s not the point of this post and that’s not what this organisation had failed to do. What I’m saying was a problem here is that the aspirations did not stick in the heads of the people who worked for it and therefore they tended to be ignored.
The aspirations will not come alive or be achieved by magic – if there are significant changes in the organisation’s direction then it will take TIME and a lot of other supporting work to change culture and business activities to match up. I have written previously that embedding and aligning aspirations into business activities (i.e. processes) is the ultimate implementation of strategy, and I’m not going back on that! However at a bare minimum, while the other business changes catch up, helping the mission, goals and principles (or at least one of the three) stick in peoples’ heads is a good start.
Tangent alert: Over my Christmas break I read ‘Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell which was fascinating. The book was all about the different factors involved in ‘tipping’ something (generally behaviour in the form of criminal behaviour, buying patterns or physical action) into the mainstream with a lot of exploration of psychological studies. When we’re talking about the ‘tipping point’ for cultural and behavioural change in an organisation, it is not just a matter of saying ‘we should do this’ and expecting it to happen. There usually are a lot of things (albeit small things) that need to occur first.
Nevertheless I thought we could have a bit of fun with this and have a think about some methods that this and other organisation could use to help its aspirations ‘stick’ better in its peoples’ heads.
The Basics First
1. Make sure the mission, goals and principles resonate with (key) staff – maybe this isn’t really a method for remembering things and is the MOST IMPORTANT thing on this list, but it is also pretty good indicator of whether it can be easily remembered or not.
2. Make sure they’re right – see 1
3. Make sure there are not too many to remember – see 1
4. If possible, make them mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive – so that staff that want to action them in their work can understand how they relate to each other and how it all hangs together.
Write them in Memorable Ways
5. Make them catchy – which may be a different type of catchy for an advertising agency vs an engineering firm. Make them catchy for the context, where possible using the language that is most readily understood by the staff and not making phrases too long.
6. Use acronyms – yes, I can’t believe I’m suggesting the creation of yet another acronym for your organisation, but applying acronyms can be helpful to people in the early stages of memorising something, or can be helpful if you wish to… (see 7).
7. Write the words as an acrostic in some form – if you are like me (and not everyone is, thank goodness!) then visual presentation of words is a great way of learning something. This way you have something visual to hang the words on and reflect on in your mind’s eye as well as on paper.
8. Present them as an image – some people are just visual learners full-stop and if you present the words as part of a bigger image or diagram, this can help them these people remember.
9. Associate them with images – a different way of presenting the words visually, which focuses on associating each word or phrase with an image or icon. Then people have the option of using the pictures to prompt recall of the words.
Display them in Meaningful Ways
10. Create an infographic – to make visual and verbal sense of the organisation’s aspirations and how they work together.
11. Create posters – for display in areas where people do their loitering. Suggestions include, by the printer, next to the kettle, in meeting rooms and on toilet doors.
12. Include them in email signatures, corporate templates and letterheads – so they are on constant display to staff and external stakeholders.
13. Include on intranet – give them a prominent place on your intranet and ideally internet also.
14. Display on all random places – on mugs, uniforms, windows, doors, plant pots, fridges, staplers and basically any asset you can.
Make it Fun
Well if none of the others are fun enough for you (fair enough), let’s get a bit more serious about the novelty element. (Because what could be more fun than memorising a strategic plan?)
15. Make a song or rhyme about it – I know I know. There may be people reading this rolling their eyes at me and that is fine. I would agree. Except I have a preschooler who can learn ANYTHING if it’s put to song. As an experiment I put my mobile phone number to a tune and within a week he could reel it off with or without music.
16. Make up a game about it – I’m thinking ludo style with aspirations colour coded on the squares and the requirement to reel off all goals when you land on a particular square. Catchy yes? May not be cost effective if you are an organisation of 3, but you know… something to think about. Find-a-words could be good too.
17. Replace buzz word bingo cards with aspiration bingo cards – so that those members of your team that get distracted during meetings can use their distraction productively.
18. Make collectible stickers and sticker champions – I quite like this one but haven’t explored the practicalities much. Create sets of stickers for all the aspirations and appoint a select number of people to hold each type of sticker (the champions). The aim is for the champions to promote the principle / goal they hold the stickers for and look for deserving people who earn each sticker. The aim for the rest of the staff is to try and collect all the stickers. If you give everyone a template board for them to put their stickers on you have a situation (in a dream world maybe) where everyone has their game board on display which has the goals and principles written on it, and then everyone is trying to earn all the stickers. Couple this with a reward for the first 10 people to fill their sticker board…. Well it would work in a school anyway!
Make it Deathly Serious
19. Fixed agenda slot – recitation or discussion about the aspirations and how they have been made alive at the beginning of every team meeting. Hey… if you put it to music it could be like your organisation’s anthem.
20. Mandatory desktops and screen savers – put them on everybody’s computer and ban anyone from overriding the standard settings.
21. Online course /quiz – develop an online course and/or quiz and make all staff use it every month.
22. Mandatory reporting – Require regular reporting on how staff are contributing to each of the organisation’s aspirations.
23. Intensive sessions – whether it be as a once-off awareness raising session or regular workshops, actually give people time and methods to learn about and internalise the organisation’s aspirations.
So how do you think these might work in your organisation? Feel free to chime in via the comment section below and add to this list.
Click here to download this as a PDF quick guide.