I know how hard it is to develop an organizational strategy. And I know that it's even more difficult to articulate your strategy so that each employee understands what you're trying to do and what he/she can do to support your success.

But there's no excuse for expressing your strategy as a complicated, MBA-level PowerPoint slide. Or as a series of multi-syllabic words ("differentiation," I'm looking at you) that aren't even clear, much less inspiring.

That's why I love the idea described in the book Fewer, Bigger, Bolder by Sanjay Khosla and Mohanbir Sawhney. The underlying concept is that every strategy needs to be translated into a "rallying cry," which Collins Dictionary defines as "a word or phrase, an event, or a belief which encourages people to unite and to act in support of a particular group or idea."

A rallying cry can "can come in various guises--a phrase, an acronym, a symbol, an image . . . even a color."

And that's where the idea comes in: Convey your strategy as a color.

Wait, what? Stay with me as Khosla tells the story about when he was chief of Unilever's beverages category worldwide. The biggest beverage in Unilever's orbit? Lipton, the best-selling brand of tea in the world.

Khosla recalls that each year, the top 100 or so executives from Unilever's tea-based beverages business met to discuss the strategy going forward. "In 1999, there was good news to report from Lipton: sales were strong and the innovation pipeline was full," Khosla writes. "But long-term problems persisted. Lipton's operations were fragmented around the globe, and the regional operations were poorly coordinated to capitalize on the brand's full potential."

Senior leaders realized that the Lipton brand needed a reboot. So when executives gathered that year at Colworth House, an 18th century mansion set on lovely, grassy grounds in Bedfordshire, about 60 miles northwest of London, they got a shock: 

The entire lawn in front of the mansion shone in bright yellow. The grass had been dyed. 

The senior leadership team had decided to build on the success of efforts in Portugal and Saudi Arabia, where regional leads had positioned their product to compete in the broader market of all beverages. 

In both markets, leaders used the color yellow--the traditional color of Lipton packages--to show that Lipton was playing in the wider arena rather than in just the traditional tea market. For example, in Portugal, Lipton appeared on beaches with yellow beach umbrellas, girls in yellow bikinis and drinks served in yellow mugs.

Writes Khosla: "Regional executives in both countries had drawn upon a powerful psychological fact: Colors can evoke. Yellow signals sun, vitality, happiness, optimism. The associations abound: Lipton brings brightness to your life. When you are down, it can lift you up."

So Unilever management decided to use yellow to convey Lipton's new strategy: "Sell Lipton tea as not just a tea, but as the key ingredient of a pleasurable and healthy experience, an approach that would allow Lipton to operate in a wider beverages market while building up on the core benefits of tea."

The rallying cry was this: "Paint the world yellow with Lipton."

Naturally, there was more to the strategy than just the color. For example, every Lipton country operation was asked to implement a road map for execution. Internal communications highlighted successes and insights so best practices could spread. 

But at the core was the color yellow, which Lipton used to "unify and excite its community of employees worldwide."

Khosla's perspective: 'This is a great example of: Find it. Bottle it. Scale it."

So here's the question for you: How do you distill your strategy into a simple concept (or color) that every employee will support?

Published on: Dec 11, 2019
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