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How to craft a compelling narrative that will connect with senior executives

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Published on 07.12.2022

One of the differences in leadership communication that I’ve been thinking about a lot this year is the difference between episodic and sustained communications. Back in January I wrote a post about how leaders need to continue the thread so their teams can see how their work fits into a longer arc of work.

Lately, I’ve been advising many clients on how to improve their communication with C-Suite executives who, by the nature of their jobs, are bombarded with bits and bytes of information, requests for resources, decisions, and reconciliations all day long. All of this is really more than most people can process in a day or a week. If you’re a leader who regularly communicates with senior management in your organization, it’s critical to your success and theirs that you communicate in terms of an ongoing narrative, rather than just giving them a random episode of the day.

A strong narrative can provide senior executives with the context they need to make critical decisions about the strategic direction, tactical moves, and resource allocations that make things happen. For you as a communicator, a strong narrative provides a framework to set a clear direction and then provide a series of methodical updates on the steps you and your team are taking to get there. The net effect of all this is that things get done with less friction and pushback because senior leaders see you and your team as people who can be trusted and can set direction and get things done.

Here are three things to look for when you’re crafting a narrative to communicate with senior management.

Start with the What and Why – When you’re taking on a big initiative, it’s vital to invest time upfront in developing a clear explanation and picture of what you’re working on and why it’s important to the organization. This is the North Star you’ll keep coming back to. In almost every presentation or executive talk, you’ll want to start with a quick reminder of what your big goal is and why it’s important. Another way to put it is, “We do this to make this result happen.”

Set milestones: Especially at the beginning of a large initiative, you need to establish key milestones that break down progress into visible chunks along the narrative path. You can think of milestones like chapters in a book. In a good book, the end of a chapter makes you want to start the next one. The story has been progressed in a way that makes you want to keep reading. A milestone is like the end of a chapter in a project that creates momentum to start the next chapter. You need them to create a compelling narrative that makes senior management feel confident in your work, focused on your results, and interested in how they can help and support you.

Summary of results: Every time you meet with senior executives on your initiative, you need to spend a little time debriefing. Think of it as a recap at the beginning of a TV series. You know what I mean. The announcer says, “Earlier in…” and then you’re treated to 45 seconds or so of expertly edited clips that give you a quick rundown of what happened on the show. The best “previously on…” gives you a sense of what to expect in the series you’re about to watch. You need all of this because your life is busy and it’s not always easy to remember what happened in the last episode or focus on what you’re about to watch. It is the same with senior management briefing. Since their plates are too full, you need to help them get back into the flow of the story by doing a “previously on…” recap.

To extend media metaphors, you are the leader of the initiatives you are tasked with leading. Like any good showrunner, if you want to connect with senior management, you have to create a compelling narrative and stick to it.

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