Strategy Communication with Rich Pictures

The interest in graphical techniques has been rising steadily and many companies use such techniques to facilitate meetings and to help with communicating key corporate messages.  We define graphic recording and graphic facilitation as the use of business-oriented graphic artists and consultants to help organisations to document meetings, develop strategy and communicate it to employees through rich pictures.  In this research, we worked with a range of different organisations including Root, Grove Consultants International, Delta7 and Don Braisby Associates.  This paper is based on one technique from Root Learning, called the RootMap© or Strategic Learning Map ©.

Lettice F and Brayshaw K.  2007. Using graphical techniques to communicate strategy: an exploratory study, Strategic Change, 16, pp 145-159.

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Strategy implementation often fails.  One reason for this is that the strategy is not effectively communicated to employees.  The second reason is that the communication is not understood.  Much business communication is in written format or via emails and this can result in information overload.  Meetings can help as more rich information can be conveyed, but too many meetings can be counter-productive.  Experimental research has shown that visual images help to improve learning and recall of the information.

For strategy communication, rich communication media, such as small group meetings and one-to-one discussions, which enable two-way, top-down and bottom-up communication are better than lean media such as reports and newsletters.  Individuals need to be able to work out what any change means for them and strategy communication should be able to trigger debate about where the organisation is going and what that means for individuals within it.

As part of this research, we interviewed three organisations that had used Root’s techniques for strategy communication and we also interviewed Root’s consultants. A survey was also carried out within one of the organisations, with 201 respondents.   The three organisations were all large multinationals with a need to communicate strategy to large numbers of employees.  They had previously communicated strategy through presentation slides, CEO talks and newsletters, but felt that these techniques has not been particularly successful and messages had not been clear of understandable enough.

graphic strategy

Each organisation had then used Root to try to improve their strategy development and communication processes.  Each Strategic Learning Map ©.for the three organisations was unique to that organisation and their particular strategy.  What was similar across all of the Maps was the use of a visual metaphor or rich picture.  One metaphor used was a mountain that the organisation had to climb.  Embedded in each picture are boxes with detailed data about, for example, trends in sales, trends in profit, customer purchasing habits, and key competitors. Each Map has a series of questions that accompany it, designed to encourage participation and discussion about the picture.

The three organisations each felt that the process and Maps had been more successful at communicating strategy than other approaches in the past.  Some of the reasons given for this are:

  1. Use of graphics – the visual nature of the Maps had made the key messages much easier to understand and had been more effective and engaging in representing information
  2. Encourage dialogue – the interactive process had enable two-way communication around the rich picture and the picture was felt to draw out more conversation and discussion
  3. Inclusiveness – the pictures allowed participants to absorb information and come to conclusions themselves, rather than being presented with a fait accompli.
  4. Remembering information – the picture enabled participants to remember the message and recall it after much longer periods of time than more standard communication media
  5. Connectivity of information – having all of the information on a single page allowed connections to be drawn more easily between key pieces of information and enabled smaller parts of the organisation to see how they fitted into the whole
  6. Novelty – the Maps are different from what has been used in the past and so are well received – the novelty helps to set the organisation off on a different route with a new strategy

For the creation of the Maps, a large amount of information is collected and distilled, so that only the key information appears in the final picture.  This process itself ensures that care is taken to articulate the strategic message clearly.  The use of pictures and metaphors makes the message more engaging and memorable.  Representing information in a single page, rather than over multiple slides also helps the audience to make connections and think more holistically about the organisation and its strategy.  The dialogue that is encouraged around the pictures also increases ownership for the strategy amongst employees.  Strategy communication is an important part of the strategy implementation process.  As well as considering the communication media, it is also important to consider the content of the communication, so that the messages being conveyed are clear and understandable.  Novel ways of communicating strategy should be encouraged, which combine pictures, metaphors, text and data.