I’m stunned by how few executives can succinctly and powerfully express the growth strategy for their business. After all, it may be the most important part of their job. Instead, I hear an extraordinary amount of “corporate speak,” which includes the use of buzzwords, jargon, and unclear meanings. When leaders rely on corporate speak in strategy directives, a message that should be easily understood at all levels of the company becomes obscured and unnecessarily complicated. In many cases, leaders are never asked “what does that really mean?” because they outrank their audience. Employees and direct reports are afraid to ask for clarity, thinking they should understand it or at least pretend to, so they won’t be perceived as being difficult or dumb.
In my work with leaders, I frequently ask about their strategy and give them the challenge to “explain it to me like I’m your friend from high school who didn’t go to college and doesn’t work here.” (No disrespect to those who didn’t go to college and are plenty smart.) This test forces leaders to use direct language that doesn’t rely on the vague buzzwords and turns-of-phrase that lazily populate corporate communications. If leaders struggle to clearly articulate their strategy message, then that strategy has little chance of success.
I see this happening across various industries, from healthcare to financial services. It’s often an indicator that an executive has a faulty or underdeveloped understanding of their own strategy. Those who understand their work deeply and have a clear vision and strategy for how they want to go about making change can express their point directly and simply.
I wrote about this idea in greater detail for Forbes a few days ago. The article includes three principles you can apply in clarifying your strategic intent, and you can read the entire article