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Creative Internal Communications

The following is an extract from Words that Work.

Tell me your story

Not only is this a powerful interview question when hiring, but it is also an essential communication tool for getting to know those around you.

To succeed in communicating internally, you must build connections with those around you. If you haven’t already skipped on to the next chapter because of the pending awkwardness of what you can predict will come next, stay with me and I will provide the tools that have successfully helped leaders unlock a new level of communication and connection with employees, customers, and stakeholders.

Your Purpose Pyramid

After a couple of decades honing these questions with hundreds of leaders in various industries around the world, I created the Purpose Pyramid to allow anyone to reflect on their background and stories. The seven layers of the Purpose Pyramid allow you to extract and build your personal story, which will become the foundation of your internal corporate communication explored in this chapter, and will feed into your external communications strategy with Wall Street or the City and the media, which is covered in Chapter 9.

Let’s start with the first layer: defining experiences. Does everyone know who you are? It is common for those you have worked with for many years to not know your history, your story, how you started out, who your most inspirational boss was, or what you learned while working as a teenager. Think of this like your foundation, your defining moments, almost as though you were summarizing your life story for your biography, but in headline form, not detailed chapters. Knowing and sharing your story is crucial to your team knowing who you are, what is important to you as a leader, and how you got where you are today.

Do you remember the first seven jobs you had growing up? What did you learn from your summer jobs, part-time jobs, or volunteer work? That is usually an easy place to start because it is simple to remember, and you can often extract life lessons from each of those jobs. Next you’re required to go a little deeper: what defining moments from your family life are you willing to share? I deliberately add the caveat of what you are willing to share, because I recognize that not everyone is ready to share just any story from their early years. You can even start at the surface level of where you were born, your heritage, who is in your family, who played an important role in your life growing up, your school or college life. This may be an area you come back to after starting at the surface factual level, or it may vary for different audiences.

What if you asked your team to share their first seven jobs and the lessons that they learned from them at your next team meeting or corporate event? These offer endless connection points and seeds sown for others to pick up on.

These are what I call Story Starters, starting threads of a story that can lead to connections, conversations, and mutual interest. You can ask your team after this exercise this one powerful question:

“What are your story starters?”

The second step in your Purpose Pyramid is declaring what values are important to you; I suggest you pick your top seven. If this is new to you, consider what your guiding principles are for how you work and live your life. Often, you must create your first set of values and then sit with them for a while as you work and spend time with friends and family. Then you will become more conscious of what you hold dear and what is important to you. You can also identify your values by working backward from a situation where your values conflicted with someone else’s. This creates a values dilemma and tension, allowing you to see what is important about how you work.

The third step is stating your raison d’être, or your reason for being. This elevates above your job title, functional expertise, or any letters after your name. It’s a description of your why, or your purpose.

The fourth layer to describe in your Purpose Pyramid is what those around you can expect from you—your personal commitment to your team, your peers, your boss, your board, your social circle, and your family. This then leads to you committing in the fifth layer to what you expect of others, noting your expectations or requests of others in how they communicate with you, involve you in decisions, and keep you informed. These two expectation-setting steps are often where friction and conflict can arise because of a failure to communicate up front about mutual expectations.

The penultimate step is very specific but valuable. It is how you want others to disagree with you. This is specifically called out because of the variety in personal preferences and the impact it can have on the results you create. Some leaders love public disagreement, whereas others vehemently oppose it, expecting it all to happen behind closed doors. Amazon is a company that expects debates and disagreements to be front of stage with nothing hidden behind the curtain, regardless of the relative seniority of those challenging and those being challenged.

The final step at the top of the Purpose Pyramid is your soundbites, or catchphrases you use to display all the lower layers of the pyramid. I describe these as footprints in the sand: it is what remains when you have left and others can use those footprints to follow or to remember you were there. Just like actual footprints in the sand, they can be washed away so you have to keep repeating your soundbites and making more footprints for the soundbites that you want throughout your communications.

Now you have completed all seven steps of your Purpose Pyramid, you can refer to this in your communications and use the content in the messages you want to share, not just about your strategy and business results, but about who you are as a leader and human being. It’s your story that led you to where you are today.

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