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Translating strategy into compelling visual stories that employees can relate to is transforming organisations. This was the key message from business strategy and creativity consultant Tracey Swanepoel who runs THINKspiration, speaking at an event at Henley Business School Africa.

Ms Swanepoel, who is a Henley Business School MBA alumna, says in her experience there is growing disillusionment with the world of work.

“There is a lack of engagement from leadership that is making employees feel insignificant and exploited. They feel they are just a resource.”

She explains that Gallup found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged, meaning that 87% of employees are doing a job they probably don’t enjoy. Companies are paying for 100% effort but could be getting as little as 13% return, all at the discretion of the employee,” she says.

“Using incentives such as performance management, bonuses and compliance are, in some cases, impacting employees negatively. Too much focus on performance measurement and not on the person’s progress can be counterproductive.”

The solution is to lead differently. But how? Ms Swanepoel says we need to give people a better understanding of their organisation’s goals and purpose. But this should not be hidden away in a strategy document in a cupboard. Harvard found that 29% of employees can’t correctly identify their company’s strategy because they probably haven’t seen it, didn’t understand it or have forgotten its content.

She believes that no one retains much from a PowerPoint presentation, and most staff probably don’t really care at all about the content. There is also the challenge of the ‘CEO SOS’ mentality, that is to ‘Send Out Stuff’. The solution lies in businesses breaking through the clutter and presenting information to employees that is memorable, helpful and motivational. That is where visual ‘Stories’ and ‘Story Telling’ is making an impact.

“A Visual Strategy Map can be used to present the company’s strategy to staff or for any other type of internal communication.”

“We conduct one-on-one listening sessions with staff to determine what they think. This is distilled into a compelling visual story. We could use soccer as the visual theme, showing the soccer goal posts, the players and referee. A red card for example could depict a lapse in governance or breaking company rules,” she says.

The ‘visual map’ is displayed on company walls where staff regularly see it and are reminded of the strategy, rather that it being in a PowerPoint presentation or in a filing cabinet or electronic folder that no one ever looks at.

Ms Swanepoel adds that this is not a once-off process. Different themes can be used. “We listen to staff and then decide on the visual map based on what they are saying.”

“Our strategy helps take a complicated business model and simplify it through visual interaction. The map helps businesses communicate their operating model to everyone in the business in a powerful manner. The ‘picture’ becomes a focal point in the operations whereby any business concept can be discussed with ease and understanding,” she says.

“In one of the organisations that we worked with, using the soccer analogy to an audience of over 1000 staff got the message of how far the business had come since it was a dusty exploration site to mining over 50 000 tons of copper.”

“It becomes a tool by which management can introduce measurement and metrics and communicate progress and what is needed to be changed. In essence, visual maps become part of a business’ vocabulary and a platform get the message across,” she concludes.