The United States has an interesting, long-running tradition: Every January, we see our president give a State of the Union address. The tradition dates back to 1790, when George Washington delivered the first regular, annual message before a joint session of Congress in the then-U.S. capital of New York City. The term "State of the Union" itself first emerged in 1934, when Franklin D. Roosevelt used the phrase. In the next decade, it became the accepted name for the speech.

Just because the State of the Union normally refers to a speech given to discuss the year's upcoming priorities from the president's perspective, don't think that only a nation can derive benefit from an annual address of this sort. In fact, there's a good chance that your business, or even your department, would get a good deal of value from a speech like this--as companies ranging from Cisco to General Motors to Johnson & Johnson have learned.

All of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds a State of the Union address lets people know that it is indeed a big deal. There are people who don't usually tune in to watch politics on TV yet never miss a State of the Union address. That's because some people will give their undivided attention, provided it isn't asked for all that often. Likewise, in the workplace, if you tell your team about your grandiose plans for the organization twice a week, they will tune you out.

However, if you sit people down once a year, take out a well-thought-out PowerPoint that you've been practicing for two weeks, and passionately lay out your goals and objectives for the next year, you have a good chance of getting people's attention.

Of course, a country of 300 million people isn't exactly the same thing as a business, regardless of size. But in your address to your business, you have the advantage of being able to take questions from the audience. This shows that you're comfortable with discussion and conveys your confidence in your ideas. Let people chime in after you've vigorously explained next year's goals. Fostering this type of open environment means that you won't be blindsided when your team isn't on the same page.

What should you be covering in your State of the Union? Some possible ideas include:

  • Any updates to your mission statement or your positioning
  • New rewards or changes to incentive structure
  • A discussion of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats: Do you foresee any new challenge or opportunity in the year ahead?
  • Key Performance Indicators for the coming year
  • One, two, or three "moon shots" to accomplish in the next year
  • Recent concerns voiced by your team, and your suggestions for addressing them

Does your company have a State of the Union-level address? Why or why not? Do you find them useful in getting everyone on the same page? Let us know in the comments.

Published on: Jan 20, 2015
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