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 6-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.
“Thinking skills” and “personal flexibility” make for pretty boring copy.
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.”
“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.
Find a poster person.
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.
|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|
“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.”
Need to communicate broad concepts like core competencies? Take a tip from Zanin, and look for people who can stand for your principles.
How can you engage your readers?
As ad giant David Ogilvy famously said, “Nobody ever sold anybody anything by boring them to death.”
Most organizations seem to have missed that memo.
But at Master the Art of Storytelling — our creative-writing workshop starting March 3 — you’ll learn how to engage readers with a great story, as well as other creative elements like concrete details, description, wordplay and metaphor.
You’ll leave with creative techniques for writing stories that grab attention, communicate more clearly, make your message more memorable and move readers to act.
Save up to $100 with our group discounts.