Having a clearly defined business strategy is at the top of the list of important priorities for most senior leaders. But overwhelmingly, that strategy does not trickle down to mid-level managers and individual contributors. In fact, research has shown that, on average, 95% of employees are not aware of or do not understand their company’s strategy.
In a recently released study in the International Journal of Business Communication, researchers set out to learn if using visual models when communicating business strategy would make a difference in employees’ understanding and retention. They had a hunch it did make a difference, but an empirical study had never been conducted until now.
Turns out, images (as opposed to a list of bullet points), make a big difference.
Three key findings emerged from the study.
1. A visual depiction of the strategy is far superior to a list of bullet points.
The experiment in their research tested a list of bullet points against a visual metaphor (think “crossing a mountain” as business strategy with the mountain image used to depict the journey) and a temporal diagram (geometric shapes that show how processes interact with one another). Participants in the study paid more attention, were in greater agreement with, and retained information better when a visual representation of the strategy was used (that is, no bullet points!).
2. The temporal diagram was slightly better than the metaphorical image.
Findings were similar on several measures, but the temporal diagram scored significantly better when people’s comprehension of the strategy was checked. My guess is that the abstraction of the metaphor got in the way of a full and detailed understanding of the message. Employees might have been thinking more about the mountain than what the mountain stood for.
3. The presenter was thought more highly of when visualization was used.
Using a compelling visual model in communicating the strategy goes far beyond the message itself. What I find to be the most interesting result from the study is that the perception of the presenter was significantly higher when a visual representation (either metaphor or temporal) of the strategy was used instead of bullet points. That is, the presenter was rated as more prepared, more credible and more persuasive when visuals were used in communicating the business strategy. What corporate leader wouldn’t want to be perceived as more prepared, credible and persuasive?
To be fair, it’s not easy to develop compelling visual representations of abstract concepts like strategy. But when the stakes are high and quarterly results are riding on your strategy, getting the implementation of the strategy right is of the utmost importance. Implementation begins with communication.
>> Bullet points are easy.
>> Text is lazy.
>> Good design is priceless.
Especially when your business strategy hangs in the balance.
Want help with your strategy presentation? Contact Working Conversations today for a consultation.