Recently I led members of the Peterson Rudgers Group team in the design and facilitation of a two-day university leadership retreat that included the chancellor, his provost, the vice chancellors and deans. This has become a significant area of practice for our firm, and one that Julie, Steve and I find deeply rewarding. There is both art and science in creating and facilitating a program that fosters deep team dialogue and strategic thinking. And it can have almost magical outcomes in both team building and performance.
An essay published by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania captured our attention: “Overlooking Communication: Why Strategists are Missing a Trick.” It is true in almost every organization we’ve experienced that leaders underestimate how much, and what kind of, communication is needed to move an organization toward a strategic vision.
Authors Mark Leiter and Jeff Pundyk write: “Executives crafting strategy often miss a powerful trick — instead of making communication a top priority throughout the entire strategy development journey, they typically focus on communication only as they approach the final stages of their work.
“This may have worked when things moved slower. With every passing year, however, the available ‘time to decision’ is shrinking while executives are buried in a daily communication avalanche. Cutting through the clutter requires strategic content that is crisp, compelling and inspiring at every point in the strategy process and beyond.”
Many expert communicators I know are fans of the “drumbeat” approach to communication: a steady stream of large and small actions and stories, over time, that help reinforce a consistent idea or theme. The reason drumbeats work so well is because we are all incredibly busy and great at filtering out information. That means the odds that any one message will break through are pretty low. Build up enough pieces of communication in different avenues over time, and the chances improve for getting your target audience to say, “Aha! Something is going on there.”