WHETHER you are heading up a team, a business unit, or an entire PLC, you’re going to need a strategy. And you are going to have to communicate that strategy clearly to others, because only if others are aware of it can they actually contribute to it, and will it have any effect – a carefully crafted strategy document, no matter how elaborate and sophisticated, is not going to come to much if it merely disappears into a drawer unnoticed.

There are several rules – litmus tests – that any strategy must adhere to if it is to be communicated effectively, whether you are the CEO or a team leader.

Rule 1: Make some genuine, tough choices. Often you hear things like “our strategy is to be a good employer”, but that is not really a strategic choice. Something is only a genuine, tough choice if the converse is meaningful. “Our strategy is to be a lousy employer” is unlikely to be anyone’s preferred choice. CEO Stevie Spring’s choice for Future PLC to focus on making magazines for young males is one; magazines for middle aged women, for example, could have been a genuine option.

Rule 2: You should be able to capture the essence of your strategy in just three or four points. One point (eg, “we do magazines”) is meaningless and does not provide any direction. If you provide 20 pointers you are basically telling people what to do – moreover, no-one will actually remember them. We “a) do speciality magazines, b) for young males, c) in English” provides lots of direction but also leaves ample room for creativity and growth.

Rule 3: Communicate not only the “what” but also the “why”. Trinity Mirror’s CEO Sly Bailey (pictured below) told me recently if she had learned one thing on strategy communication it is that we are always inclined to carefully explain what the choice is, but underestimate communicating the reasons

behind it. Research on “procedural justice” proves her right; if people understand and believe that the decision-making process has been solid and just, they are inclined to cooperate, even if they do not entirely agree with its outcome. Vice versa, people who agree with the choices but feel the process used to arrive at them was wrong are inclined to withhold cooperation regardless of their

agreement. Hence, carefully explaining the “why” is at least as important as explaining what the
strategy is.

Freek Vermeulen is Associate Professor of Strategic & International Management at the London

Business School. His book – Business Exposed: The Naked Truth about What Really Goes on in the World of Business is out soon.