Did you notice the speed of change?
It’s creating massive communication challenges.
Some of these are related to the level of stress and change that we’re all facing, along with the need to deliver great results at high speed.
Others come with the increasing need to communicate not only what needs to be done and how, but who we are and how we do things around here.
These are some of the questions that I hear from the leaders of all kinds of businesses and organisations:
- How do I communicate who we are?
- How can we communicate the change we’re going to be facing in such a way that people don’t push back?
- How can we get people to understand the new strategy and start to actively engage with it?
Many consultants make a living designing complex processes and frameworks to address these questions, but I think there is an easier way:
Act on narratives first to influence behaviours.
- What is the main narrative when it comes to who you are in your team or organisation? Is it “We need to play safe”? Are you the kind of people who learn by testing and doing?
- And what kind of behaviours are emerging as a result of these narratives? Are people afraid to make mistakes because there is a strong narrative about safety? Are people so much into testing that it’s difficult to progress and agree to move forward? Is a testing culture creating silos because feedback is focused on improving products developed by individual teams?
You can’t communicate effectively if you don’t understand the narratives that are driving behaviour.
Effective communication addresses narratives first and foremost to influence people.
A couple of years ago, a 40-year-old internal memo from Nike’s head of marketing at that time, Rob Strasser, was made public. It included a set of principles and was sent to employees to guide them on how to work at Nike: the attitude, the values and the culture that would help them to thrive.
And it sounds very much like Nike, who they are and what they stand for: competitive, direct, bold and straightforward.
Once you get to this level of understanding who you are it is easier to influence behaviour, to create internal processes, experiences, and ways of communicating that signal who you are and the new direction you are taking.
Principles, narratives and manifestos give context and energy and create purpose. They create a framework for testing, learning and sharing. Most importantly, they create a sense of belonging that’s crucial when we face change.
Addressing communication challenges doesn’t need to be complex, but it does need to be intentional.
Always start with the narratives that shape behaviour if you want to influence people. Explaining them what to do is not an option anymore.