Let people stand for your principles
America’s executives spend more time crafting their company’s mission, vision and values statements than our Founding Fathers spent writing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Yet these guiding principles too often end up published in six-point gray type on the back cover of the annual report. Or they get printed on business cards, laminated, stuck in a wallet and forgotten.
In other words, they die.
Don’t bury your values and vision.
A couple of years ago, one of my favorite communicators drew a blank when “tested” on his company’s mission statement in an all-hands meeting. Instead of the mission, he turned in the only passage he’s ever memorized — Hamlet’s soliloquy.
The kicker: My friend was on the team that crafted the mission statement.
One problem is that abstract principles like the mission, vision and values are hard to get your arms around. “Thinking skills” and “personal flexibility,” for instance, make for pretty broad and boring copy.
Another problem is that employees don’t buy vague, abstract messages that they don’t see in action. That makes your guiding principles easy to ridicule.
‘Beliefs we share’?
This would never, ever happen at your company, of course, but TJ and Sandar Larkin report that at one organization, employees found the values statement “Beliefs We Share” to be so insincere, they referred to it instead as “Bullshit We Share.”
And at another company, employees transformed the slogan “The Power of One” into a mocking, Star Trek-style salute.
To breathe life into your organization’s guiding principles — and to avoid flat-out mockery — show, don’t tell. Instead of crafting slogans, find real employees to demonstrate your guiding principles in action.
Illustrate core competencies.
That’s what communicator Brenda Zanin did when she wanted to illustrate the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s eight core competencies. She sought employees who translated those principles into action.
“We felt members and employees might get a better appreciation for the competencies by seeing how they applied in people’s lives,” says Zanin, editor of Pony Express, the RCMP’s national employee communication channel.
After all, she writes, the organization’s worldwide reputation “is built one person at a time.”
Zanin and her team knew some of the subjects they used to illustrate the organization’s values. Others they got through old-fashioned legwork — by calling her contacts and asking them for good candidates.
Among other employees to illustrate the competencies, she found:
|Employee …||… to illustrate|
|A forensic toxicologist who devised a new method of screening for drugs in blood samples||Thinking skills|
|The sergeant in charge of coordinating media response after the Swissair Flight 111 crash in September 1998||Communication|
|An officer who returned to work after losing her right leg in a shooting||Personal effectiveness and flexibility|
Need to communicate broad concepts like core competencies? Take a tip from Zanin, and look for individuals who can stand for your principles.
Illustrate policies, procedures and programs.
Call them the seven dreary P’s: programs, plans, policies, procedures, protocols, positions and products.
Bring these mind-numbing topics to life by turning them into an eighth P: people.
Let people stand for policies.
For instance, nothing’s more dull than the annual story about the organization’s — yaaaawn! — casual dress guidelines.
Walgreens communicators could have done the same-old finger-wagging, don’t-you-dare-wear-your-flip-flops-to-work piece that’s a staple of too many internal communications.
Instead, they dressed up the story (I know, I know — terrible pun) with images of and tips from employees. That’s much more accessible and less patronizing than one more “Thou shalt not” story.
Reiterating rules to employees? Make sure your employees are in on the message. Use employees to illustrate your policies.
Let people stand for protocols.
When Sharon Weinfeld, a communications strategist for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, announced that a team of member nurses had decreased health care-related infections, she could have tersely delivered the news:
Instead, she brought the news story to life by writing a good human-interest story:
Bring your policies and procedures to life with people.