The battle for attention

If there is a parallel between business and politics, it is about the ability to win the narrative argument. In many ways, we are running constant campaign within our organisations seeking to win over new supporters and retain those that we have. And in business, like politics, we often make this whole process sound harder than it is. In essence, it boils down to a few core approaches.

  • Clear and simple – if you want people to buy into your organisational vision, then you need to keep it clear and simple. It needs to make sense to others and not just to those that came up with it. The vast majority of people, whether they’re consumers or employees, aren’t going to spend hours and hours trying to diagnose your messaging they need it delivered to them on a plate. It doesn’t matter whether that’s your overall vision, or one of a change programme or piece of work. Same rules apply, always,
  • Listen to feedback – people will tell you if you’ve got it wrong, listen to them. The instinctive reaction is to justify, to tell people that they’re a little bit stupid for not understanding, to tell them that it is all really clear and written down. But if they’ve haven’t understood it, then whose fault is that really? How many change programmes or product launches have died because the message simply didn’t resonate. I guarantee the telltale signs were there way before.
  • Don’t drink the Kool Aid – or perhaps, more importantly, if you have then step out of the way. The problem with the converted is they only see the benefits, they are by definition biased and therefore they won’t be able to understand the pitfalls. If everyone on the team thinks the plan is “the best idea ever”, then you’ve got a problem. Hire someone who sees the downsides and listen to them.
  • Appeal to the right thing – Sometimes people don’t “get you” and sometimes they don’t “feel you”, recognising which one you’re up against and tailoring your messaging is key. Have a think about the consumer brands you love the most, whether it is a product, a service or an experience. My guess is that you’ll be able to explain why it works for you, but you’ll also be able to explain how it makes you feel. Do people understand why what you’re doing makes sense and do they feel it will make things better for them?
  • Campaign every day – ok so we’re not running an election here, but the principle is exactly the same. There will always be other narratives at play, either inside your organisation or outside, telling people messages that might contradict with the ones you want to get across. As it was put to me a number of years ago, “every day you don’t land your narrative, someone else does”. It really is that simple.

Telling tales is HR’s job

I find it funny that when we mention “telling tales”, we think of mischievous, misinformation and light-hearted deceit. Story telling reminds us of being children and living in a land of make-believe. There is a whimsical, simplicity and a leisurely disdain for the telling of tales or stories. It has nothing to do with the corporate world and business success.

But organisations need to tell stories now, more than ever.

The narrative of corporate life is increasingly complex. Balancing opposing messages, dealing with contending forces. Explaining the paradox of our corporate existence.

Yes, we need to tell stories more than ever.

The environment is increasingly complex, disparate and disjointed. The simple messages of the past, “do this and we will do that”, “be this and you will get that” are no longer true. We can no longer rely on this basic narrative.

Balancing the seemingly conflicting messages of our work life, creating the authentic narrative that reflects the complexity of the working relationship. That is a skill we can all learn better.

HR needs to help tell the organisational tales that connect people, create meaning and purpose. That deal with and accept the contradictions and realities. We need to get better at telling tales. It is one of our most important jobs.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin……