In All Truthfulness
By: Brian Ward
|Brian Ward is a principal in Affinity Consulting. He helps leaders, teams and individuals acquire new knowledge and wisdom through their consulting and educational work. He can be reached at t firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Your team has devised a mission, vision and strategy. Now comes the time to ‘communicate’ it to the world, and to ask key people to sign-up, support the strategy and develop tactics and plans to make it happen. The dilemma at this stage in most organizations is should they write the truth as the organization and its stakeholders needs to hear it, or should they write what is politically expected of them? And if your organization prides itself on being a learning organization, then the dilemma gets even tougher. In such a culture, people expect to hear the truth and nothing but the truth. How else can they continue learning?
And if you are operating in a competitive, for profit environment, what would your competitors do with such ‘truths’, not to mention what analysts and stockholders might do? Even in a non-profit or governmental environment, telling the truth can have a price that seems unjustified, given that you are really only trying to ‘tell it as it is’ and garner support for your strategy.
The upshot of all of this is that you need to write for a variety of audiences, all with different expectations and different agendas, some of whom may not be very kind to you, and some who will be kind to you no matter what you publish! In communicating, you owe your loyalties to the truth, but that does not mean that you have to die on a sword for it! Your mission, vision and strategy (M/V/S for short) are too important to allow that to happen. You reap what you sow.
So how should you tackle this problem? Have you ever written a letter, memo or report that you never intended to send to someone? You may have done this in order to blow off steam or even to apologize for some wrongdoing on your part. The exercise can be quite therapeutic and revealing. The following exercise contains such an element, but will get you to a point where you can devise a communications piece (memo, report, presentation, etc.) that will actually see the light of day!
Begin by focusing on WHAT you want to communicate. Let’s say it’s your team's new mission/vision/strategy (M/V/S). It’s not fully developed yet, and requires input from a variety of stakeholders in order to better refine it. You are hoping that by engaging people in this way, that it will elicit their buy-in. But you’re no greenhorn when it comes to doing this type of thing. You’ve been around the block a few times, and know that there are some people who will resist anything just for the hell of it. There are even some who will support ANYTHING you suggest! And you are not sure which of them are the most dangerous! Yet you must remain loyal to the essence of your M/V/S.
Your first step is to list all those people and things that you must remain 'loyal' to when you write your communications piece. These may include the following:
Those who supplied input to the M/V/S
Fill in your own…
My own version of the truth
My personal vision for myself
My core ideals/principles/beliefs/values
Fill in your own…
Your next step is to pick THREE, plus YOUR VERSION OF THE TRUTH to work on. The three should include someone whom you believe will vigorously oppose what you are trying to achieve through your M/V/S, someone who will vigorously support it, and someone or some thing that matters a lot to you personally.
You are going to write a short piece for each of these that could be read in three minutes or that you could communicate verbally in two minutes. Don’t worry about the others, as you will return to them later.
To assist in keeping this short, you are going to divide your communications pieces into three parts, based on the age old approach of:
- Tell them what you are going to tell them;
- Tell them what you said you would tell them; and
- Tell them what you told them
Your first piece is YOUR VERSION OF THE TRUTH. Write this piece as if you intended for it to be sealed in a time capsule, discovered sometime in the future, after your death...a sort of leader's legacy.
Your subsequent pieces should be to your other ‘loyalties’. It may seem strange that one of those ‘loyalties’ would be someone who may vigorously oppose what you are trying to achieve, your M/V/S. But you may need to be loyal to the ideal of broad based input or participation in the discussion concerning your M/V/S, and that will inevitably include some folks who may feel threatened by what it is you are attempting to do!
When you are finished, you should have FOUR communications pieces, all written using the same three part structure. Remember, you may or may not show any of these pieces to the persons involved, but at a minimum you will use them as the framework for your final written piece.
Your next step is to analyse the pieces you have written. Wait a day or two and read each of the pieces again. Read them aloud. Create an image in your mind of the person reading what you have written. In your mind's eye, watch their physiology as they hang on every word. Do they look annoyed, angry, confused, bored, amazed, open-eyed, disbelieving, charged up, excited, fearful, dismissive, etc?.
What particular words or phrases cause such changes in physiology? Circle or underline them. What reaction were you looking for? What reaction are you now visualizing? Why is this? What could you substitute that might get the reaction that you wanted?
Your final step in this process is to write a consolidated draft. This consolidated piece will be a composite of the four pieces that you have written and analyzed. Take this piece and review it by looking at your initial list of PEOPLE and THINGS, and make appropriate adjustments. Create this as a FIRST DRAFT to show to others. It is up to you as to whether to show it as a draft to those people you selected to write the first four versions for. But if you do, the final version will be that much stronger for it.
Good luck with your writing!
This approach has been adapted from an original process contained in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Senge et al titled ‘Writing to Your Loyalties’.
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