The Communication Strategy Sure to Inspire Employees

Improve the way you communicate with your employees and create a motivating vision by tapping into your company's past, present and future.
May 14, 2014

You can't tell in advance whether the way you communicate as a leader will be effective in persuading your employees to take action. But you can increase the odds that you'll be successful by giving careful thought to how you organize your messages.

There are many organizing templates you can use that are designed to persuade and inspire your listeners. One that's ideal for leadership communication is the past/present/future framework. It's particularly effective when you're speaking about your company's vision and your future prospects, or when you're announcing a new project that requires everyone's buy-in and commitment.

Although it can be extremely effective, this type of leadership communication is one of the most challenging because it requires you to create a concrete image of something that lives in your head. Fortunately, there are many established ways you can bring a vision to life, including using stories, metaphors, symbols, analogies, quotations, examples, slogans and powerful visual aids to powerfully communicate your message.

One strategy that's often neglected—but that's critical to communicating successfully—is how you order your message. The tendency is to delve straight into your vision of the future, the deliverables or the goals. Instead, use a different approach: Before pressing play, rewind to the past, pause on the present, then roll out the future.

The Past

Take a moment to remind your employees of a host of things that serve to inspire. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What has been our situation in the past?
  • What are the challenges our team has overcome?
  • What are the lessons learned that we don't want to forget?
  • What are the great accomplishments we've already achieved?
  • What are the victories we've won?
  • What are the team's strengths?
  • What has made us who we are today?
  • What are the things we want to celebrate, the things we need to bring forward?
  • Which hero stories do we need to keep alive?

It's your job as a leader to interpret and give meaning to the past for your people. When you do this, you make people feel that they're a part of your company's vision. This increases your odds of inspiring them to buy into the vision of your business's future. It is, after all, a shared vision, not just your own vision. As executive educator and bestselling author Jim Kouzes puts it, "It's not just the leader's vision, it's a shared vision that inspires others."

The Present

Pause for a moment to address your company's current situation. Some points to address are:

  • What are our current challenges?
  • What do we need to watch out for?
  • If we were to perform a pre-mortem, what are some things that might show up that we can decide to avoid?
  • What roadblocks do we anticipate?
  • How can we overcome any potential roadblocks?
  • What are the opportunities we must capitalize on?
  • What might be some opportunities disguised as problems?
  • What do we need to abandon?
  • What do we need to continue to do?
  • What might hold us back and what do we need to do about it?
  • What are the emotions in the room?
  • How do we avoid being derailed?
  • What do we all agree are non-negotiables? For example, we'll have no complaining behind doors and no sacred cows. Or we'll have all support, no walls.

The Future

Now you're ready to roll out the vision, paint the future and take people step by step through whatever the future prospect entails. These questions will get you started:

  • What sets us apart from everyone else?
  • How do we stand out in this crowded and noisy space?
  • What is unique about our vision?
  • What is ideal about our vision?
  • What image best describes our ideal future?
  • Why would people want to buy from us, listen to us, follow us?
  • What is our higher purpose? Why do we do what we do?
  • Why should the vision matter to everyone in the company?
  • What is everyone's contribution to this journey?
  • How does the vision tap into everyone's aspirations?
  • How will this improve our existing situation?
  • How will we get to where we want to go?
  • How long will it take us to reach our destination?

The answer to these questions will guide you in crafting your vision, but if you need help, pick up a copy of The Leadership Challenge Vision Book by Jim Kouzes.

As a business owner, you're the custodian of your company's history. Lead your listeners to the future through the arc of your history. As leadership coach Terry Pearce writes in Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future, "Leadership communication is about growth and change, words that contain a past, a present and a future—a story line.” What's your story line?

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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