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The importance of articulation in business strategy development and execution

The question of articulation doesn't get nearly enough attention in business strategy.

Articulation is the ability to express every aspect of your business strategy in a way which is:

  1. crystal clear,
  2. engaging and
  3. encourages aligned action.

It applies to:

  • Your strategic analysis: Is it insightful? Does it create those aha! moments for your audience?
  • Your strategic goals and initiatives: Are they clear and unambiguous?
  • Your results tracking: Can everyone clearly see your strategy succeeding?
  • Each step in the process of gathering inputs and developing the strategy, as well as communicating the output.

There are four critical success factors for strategy articulation.

  • Communicating clearly and precisely.
  • Telling a story.
  • Leaving everything else out.
  • Being consistent.

Communicating clearly and precisely

This should go without saying. But we've all been on the receiving end of communications which are jam-packed with jargon and waffle, repetitive redundancies, which go on for ever without ever seeming to reach a conclusion or make a point and leave you wondering what the communicator meant or what you are supposed to do about it. (Yes, that sentence is deliberately poorly written.)

Make sure your strategy is not guilty of this.

Articulation starts with grammar and spelling. It proceeds to sentence, paragraph and document structure.

I often use a tool called hemingwayapp.com to help me ensure my writing is up to standard. If you've not yet tried it, I suggest you give it a go.

Of course, there are other tools you can use. And I am sure they're just as good. If you have a favourite, why not share it with the rest of us in the comments?

It's not just about words and sentences. You can also use charts, tables and graphics. And its just as important that these are clear and well constructed.

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."
- Albert Einstein

Telling a story

People have been telling each other stories since the discovery of fire. It's baked into the way we communicate. It's part of how we make sense of the world.

You strategy should tell a story. It should have a beginning, middle and end. It should lead your audience on a journey from where you are now to where you want to be.

It should engage them on a personal level. It should tap into their fears and aspirations. Articulation should take the logic of your strategy and connect it to the emotions of your audience.

People are sense-making beings. We're programmed to make sense of the world. And we do it with stories. So if the story of your strategy doesn't make sense or contains gaps, people will simply fill in the blanks. They will make up the story in a way that makes sense to them. It won't always be what was intended. But it will become their understanding of the strategy.

Leaving everything else out

Why does James Bond never eat, sleep or brush his teeth? Of course, he does. But that gets left out of the film. It's not relevant. And it would bore the audience instead of engaging them.

Is your strategy packed with irrelevant detail? It may make you look clever. But is it detracting from your strategy?

Or have you refined it down to its essence? Just enough to tell the story and achieve the effect you're after. And no more.

At the end of many assignments I end up with a deck or document I call "the cutting room floor". It contains all the analysis and ideas that, whilst valid, didn't make it into the final strategy. They're not wrong, or bad. They may even have been important at during the process of developing the strategy. They're just not essential to the current articulation.

Being consistent

You've probably invested a lot of time and effort in coming up with your strategy.

So don't expect your audience to fully understand what you're saying in the first telling. They also need time to get to grips with it.

That takes repetition over time. And repetition requires consistency.

At school we may have been taught to vary what we say so that we don't bore our audience. We're taught to use similes and synonyms and flowery language. To mix things up.

But in business we need to be more concise and consistent.

I you say the same thing in two different ways, your audience will spend all their time trying to understand if you mean the same thing. Sometimes, they'll get it wrong and think the meaning is different when that wasn't intended. Either way it is distracting their attention away from your core message.

I know many people who think function is more important than form. That if your strategy is sound, it shouldn't matter how you articulate it. But the truth is, it does. So you might was well get good at articulating strategy.

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