There’s an old story about the building of a cathedral. The patron who has largely funded construction has asked for a tour of the building site, and the architect and foreman gladly oblige her.
On the appointed day, she arrives to be greeted by the pair, who promptly take her to where the work is being done. They encounter three brick masons over the course of the day, and the patron is greatly struck by the range of their attitudes and the quality of their work.
The first mason is scowling as he slaps down mortar and stacks bricks haphazardly. When the patron asks what he is doing, he says, “I am laying bricks.”
The second mason is neutral and her work is passable. Then the lunch whistle blows, and she puts down her trowel mid-task and starts eating. The patron asks what she is working on, and between bites of her sandwich, the mason answers, “I am building a wall.”
The third brick mason is smiling as she carefully places bricks and mortars the joints. The quality of her section is far above the work of the other masons. When the patron asks what she is doing, she answers:
“I am building a beautiful cathedral that will stand in the center of our fair city for centuries. I hope that one day my great-grandchildren might see it and aspire to contribute to something equally as important in their lives!”
Strategic communications can make the difference
Strategic communications help employees become cathedral builders. Cathedral builders see the big picture and understand how their work connects to a significant purpose. They have clarity about their role, its importance and where to focus their attention despite competing priorities.
The best communicators connect the bricks and walls so that people can see the future cathedral under construction. The trust, collaboration and shared purpose that underlie employee engagement reside in that vision and assured progress toward its fulfillment.
Trust, shared purpose, clarity of action, visible progress and feedback loops to support a strong sense of community and ensure continuous improvement — these are the outward signs of strategic communications that are working.
During normal times, you may already appear to have all these things in place. Times of significant change, though, will highlight any deficiencies. Don’t wait for a “burning platform.” Build strategic communications into your organization now.
How can you tell if you already have strategic communications in place? Is it fair to expect communicators to affect your core business? Ask yourself:
- Can your communicators predict what their priorities will be in three months? In six?
- Are they regularly bringing people and projects together to synthesize messages for employees in simple and inspiring ways?
- When appropriate, can they influence others not to communicate initiatives that aren’t business priorities or have no associated actions for the audience to take?
- Do they work with you to set goals and agree upon desired outcomes before they start communication planning? Are those goals tied to essential business needs?
- Does your organization have grand narratives that simply and clearly define purpose? Can your employees relate those stories without cue cards? Can you?
- Do your employees understand why your organization exists and how it secures funds to continue operating?
- Are you regularly seeing non-generic success stories that celebrate and define success in compelling ways?
If you’re answering no to many of these questions, it may be time to dig in and re-evaluate your communications approaches, especially if you anticipate significant changes ahead.
More thoughts about strategic communications? Comments are welcome!