You developed the strategy. It’s the right strategy. You clearly explain it on a company-wide Webex and send the PowerPoint out to everyone all-company email: “We are going to put customers at the center of our strategy and create the best customer experience.”

So, why does the company have so much trouble making it happen? Your team has heard it all before. “What’s different this time?” they ask. “This too shall pass” they say. 

Don’t just tell people your strategy. Show them.

Make a picture.


The process of making a picture forces you and your team to think it through. Working together to make a picture requires you to ask and answer the critically important questions that bring your strategy to life. Questions like:

  • What exactly are we going to do, and why?
  • How are we going to do it?
  • What are the obstacles and barriers do we anticipate, and how will we overcome them?
  • How will we know we are doing it right?
  • How can we make sure everyone in the company, from the board room to the front line, understand the strategy? How can we make it crystal clear and repeatable everywhere in the world?

CTA-Process-02.svgPictures are a universal language. They speak to everyone. And they make it possible for everyone to participate in making the strategy live and breathe.

XPLANE used this approach to help a major hotel chain accelerate their growth strategy. The process of opening a new hotel was lengthy and complicated: a new franchisee had to manage the construction process, onboard and train employees, develop marketing materials, ensure brand consistency, and oversee a host of other activities before they could even begin taking reservations.

The process of making a picture brought together people from multiple different functions into the same room, sometimes meeting for the first time, to compare, connect, and simplify complex processes and interdependencies. The picture-making process gave them a way to have the conversations they needed to have to make the strategy clear, compelling, and actionable. The result was a new hotel onboarding kit with clear, visual pictures that both clarified the strategy and made it much simpler to execute.

What happened? The program was rolled out to more than 100 countries. Hotels using the onboarding kit averaged 86% more revenue and 54% higher average daily room rate.

Without a clear picture, you will never get a global organization fully aligned.

Are you in love with your strategy? That’s great! To implement the strategy, the rest of the organization needs to fall in love with it too. And to fall in love with it, they will need to understand it. Anything that involves people thinking or behaving differently – and I’ll bet your strategy does – is asking people to change the way they do things. People just don’t change their behavior that easily, especially when they are embedded in a system involving multiple functions and complex interdependencies. The more they are embedded deep in the system, the more they will need to understand it at a deeper and more granular level.

So, are you telling people about your strategy or are you showing them?

People cannot execute a strategy they don’t understand, and they will not execute a strategy they don’t believe in. Employees have many competing priorities and will choose the ones that are simplest and offer the best chances for personal as well as organizational success.

Don’t tell them, show them.

Show them the future that you envision.

Show them what you are going to do, and why.

Show them how you will do it.

Show them the anticipated barriers and how you will overcome them.

Show them how you will measure success.

The famous leadership expert W. Edwards Deming once said, “A true leader does not give orders. A true leader gives explanations.” A clear picture is the best explanation you can ever give.

Visual explanations give you a tool to align people around the right goals and get them focused on the right things.

Strategy is conceived in the rarified air of the board room, but it is executed on the ground, in the decisions and actions people take every day as they do their work. If they don’t get it, you can forget it. We call this process strategy activation.