A Consistent Message: Spell It Out with a Story

By Chris Ihrig

Employee engagement is at troublingly low levels. For more than a decade, engagement hovered around 30%. Then, in 2018, the Gallup Organization reported that engagement had dropped to 15%. To counteract low engagement, managers are encouraged to share the mission, vision, values, goals, and strategies of their organization with employees.

Leaders must have a clear vision of where they want an organization to go, including the way each department contributes to the overall strategy and mission. Leaders’ brains form neuropathways that connect the big picture to each part in ways that make the connections obvious in the leaders’ internal dialogue about their organization.

The neurological connections that are automatically created by our brains are essential if leaders are to do their job. But the way our brains make these connections can lead to cognitive biases that make it more difficult for us to communicate clearly with employees. It is easy to assume employees see the connections between the vision and specific tasks that we see which can make us think we’re communicating clearly when our message isn’t at all clear to employees.

Combating Dismal Employee Engagement Numbers

What if you think you’re sharing the mission, vision, values, goals, and strategies of your organization with employees, but you aren’t because your employees’ brains don’t make the connections between the big picture and the tasks the employee performs? Or, what if the employee doesn’t make the connection between doing their task well and avoiding deficits in the bottom line that will make layoffs necessary? These types of disconnects can occur in any organization; they aren’t just prevalent in organizations where front-line employees don’t have a college education in business.

For example, The NewEngland Journal of Medicine reported that most physicians are ill-prepared to understand the business side of medicine:

  • Over one-third of residents (39%) said they are unprepared to handle the business side of medicine. Only 10% of residents said they are very prepared to handle the business side of medicine.
  • The majority of residents (56%) said they received no formal instruction during their medical training regarding medical business issues such as contracts, compensation arrangements, compliance, coding, and reimbursement methods.

Cognitive biases can make us assume that other college-educated people were exposed to the same information we learned in college. But an engineer or a doctor might not possess business knowledge. If they don’t, their brain doesn’t make the same connections a person on the business side of the organization will make.

Developing messages that communicate these connections without talking down to people is a talent worth developing. Stories help you achieve this goal.