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How to Make Your Strategy Stick with Stories

How to Make Your Strategy Stick with Stories

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Published by Shawn Callahan
Strategies are pretty much useless if know one knows or understands it. Story techniques can help you embed you strategy in a way where you can do away with your powerpoint slides and just have your leaders tell your strategic story.
Strategies are pretty much useless if know one knows or understands it. Story techniques can help you embed you strategy in a way where you can do away with your powerpoint slides and just have your leaders tell your strategic story.

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: Shawn Callahan on Jan 16, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Page 1 of 4
| © 2011 Anecdote Pty Ltd
—Ben Horowitz, entrepreneur and investor
 Steve Jobs bounces onto the stage and grabs theslide changer rom his colleague with a riendly
“Thanks Scott” 
. He’s looking thin and grey, illnesshaving taken its toll, but his energy remainsboundless. It’s the 2011 Apple WorldwideDevelopers Conerence and Steve is about toannounce a change in strategy or his company.The 1000-plus crowd cheers as he steps into thespotlight and then alls silent, hanging on hisnext utterance.
About 10 years ago we had one of our mosimportant insights, and that was the PC was gonnabecome the digital hub for your digital life.” 
Withthese words, Steve begins his strategic story.
A recent global study of 450 enterprisesfound that 80% of those companies felttheir people did not understand theirstrategies very well
It’s the dirty little secretshared by so many companies: ask any employeeabout your strategy, including the executiveteam, and they’ll lunge or a document thattells them. It’s rarely embedded in their mindsand, as a result, the espoused strategy does notinfuence day-to-day decision-making. Given theeort applied to strategy development, there isa massive disconnect here. The opportunity toreconnect a rm with its strategy lies in how thisstrategy is communicated and understood.There are a number o ways o conveying yourorganisation’s strategy. A popular approach is tocrat a beautiul-looking PowerPoint presentationand email it to all your team leaders, withinstructions to present it to their teams. The heado strategy or one o Australia’s iconic brands oncetold me he happened to sit in on one o thesetalks and witnessed a team leader presenting aslide pack. It went something like this:
“OK, HQ has asked me to tell you about (clicks tothe rst slide)… ah yes, our strategy. (clicks to thenext slide and reads out the contents, then clicksagain, pauses, and says:) Not sure what thismeans…” (clicks to the next slide)
. The audienceslid into boredom. The talk ailed to engagethe team and let them none the wiser aboutthe strategy and why the company was takingthat approach. In act, they were probably morecynical about and disengaged rom the companythan they had been beore they’d sat down.So sure, emailing a slide pack is easy, but in mostcases it’s next to useless. It oten achieves theopposite o what you want.Another popular method is the CEO roadshow.The CEO visits each company site and presentsthe slide pack hersel. This act is symbolic.It shows that the CEO really cares about thestrategy and wants everyone to know about it,so it must be important. The audience watchesintently to see how she presents the strategy,to see i she really believes it, i she really caresabout it. O course, the CEO is also there to
How to make yourstrategy stick with astrategic story 
by Shawn Callahan
www.anecdote.comPage 2 of 4
| © 2011 Anecdote Pty Ltd
answer questions, but no-one dares ask one insuch an open orum.Sadly, the result is oten similar to what wasobserved by the head o strategy mentioned earlier.In kicking o a strategy session, a departmenthead at a well-known bank asked a roomul opeople,
“So, who can tell me about our strategy?” 
“OK, just one of the 12 items then.” 
 Still nothing.
“So, no-one can remember any of the 12 things I have just travelled around all our  sites talking about?” 
Silence.Slide pack-driven presentations typically containlots o bullet points and graphs and acts, butbecause these are not presented within anoverarching narrative, it’s hard or the audienceto join the dots. The audience orgets theinormation almost as soon as it les out o theauditorium because the presentation lacks amemorable story.A key question people oten ask when theyhear about a new strategy is
“Why arewe focusing on acquisition?” 
“Why are weoutsourcing?” 
“Why are we demoting the Mac to the level of an iPhone or iPad?” 
A story bestanswers these ‘Why?’ questions because it tellsus what caused the change and what’s goingto happen next – the strategy. A story providesthe context or a strategy, making it meaninguland allowing it to connect with other companystories employees may have in their minds.Here’s an example o a strategic story that wastold to me at an executive story training sessionor a telecommunications company in Malaysia.The organisation’s leader was listening to myexplanation o a strategic story when he suddenly jumped up and said:
“I get it. Here’s our story.Over the last 10 years we’ve been focused onbuilding mobile coverage. Our revenues have steadily increased but our infrastructure costs arerising faster. In two years time our infrastructurecosts will exceed revenue. That’s why we’re now moving to collaborate and share infrastructurewith our competitors and putting our efforts intocompeting on what runs on our mobile network.” 
Why was this company collaborating with theircompetitors on inrastructure? Because its inra-structure costs were going through the roo. Asimple yet eective story helped us understand why.Strategic stories are powerul because peoplecan picture them, remember them and retellthem. Well-developed stories not only answerthe ‘Why?’ questions but also convey emotionin a way that inspires people to take action inaccordance with the new strategy.Developing an eective strategic story requiressome work, primarily by the members o theexecutive team, who will oten have a variety oviews about what the company strategy actually is.It’s crucial that the responsibility or the story isnot outsourced to the strategy department or,even worse, given to a creative agency. The leaderso the company must rstly clariy their ownunderstandings o the strategy. They must then ownboth the strategy and the story that communicatesit. Finally, they must not merely be comortabletelling that story – they must relish doing so.One o the challenges aced by executives is toovercome the desire to get the words o thestory absolutely perect, as i the next PulitzerPrize winner is being written. The story shouldinstead be written to suit oral retellings, wherethe spine o the story will remain unchanged butthe exact wording will be chosen by the speaker.These choices will be guided by the contextand purpose o the story telling. Sometimes thetelling will be long, sometimes it will be short, orit will ocus on one part o the business, or on aninternal story, or an external one… stories have atremendous capacity or adaptation.Another challenge aced by executives is thedesire to only talk about what’s working well.The problem with that, however, is that apollyanna story – where everything is good andnothing ever goes wrong – is never believedor long, i at all. Eventually, everyone will seeit as merely corporate spin. Steve Jobs does notmake this mistake at the developers conerence.Part-way through his telling o the strategic story
www.anecdote.comPage 3 of 4
| © 2011 Anecdote Pty Ltd
that introduces iCloud, he admits the ailings othe now superseded sotware MobileMe, saying,
“It wasn’t our nest hour.” 
The crowd roars withlaughter. There is a sense o relie that he hasn’ttried to sweep the ailure under the carpet. Hisstrategic story gains credibility.One o the simplest ways o working out whatailings to include in your strategic story is toexplore the possible anti-tales that might be toldto discredit your story. A key lesson in story workis that you can’t beat a good story with act; youcan only beat a good story with a better story.A strong example o this was provided by a largegovernment department that my company helpedto develop a strategic story. This department had just merged with another department and theirstrategic story highlighted the advantages othe integration. When we asked the executivesto tell us some anti-stories, they described howthe department had attempted another mergera decade ago but it had only lasted a couple oyears. They called it the big divorce, and therewere still ears that it might happen again. It wasclear we needed to ace up to that act in thedepartment’s strategic story.Once an executive team can tell their strategicstory, replete with personal anecdotes that reallybring the story to lie, they then need to get therest o their organisation involved in telling it.It’s important to achieve this through bothbottom-up and top-down approaches, andto allow or variations o the story to emergethat suit dierent parts o the business whilemaintaining the story’s core.Large company gatherings are a perect timeto introduce a strategic story. Immersing manypeople in a story at the same time results in anaspect o group psychology called ‘social proo’– the social pressure that tells us that i otherpeople are doing something, it is sae or us todo the same thing. A large event provides theperect orum or executives to present theirstory and or the participants to share their ownanecdotes, which can reinorce and illustrate thestrategy. This also allows concerns and anecdoteswhich contradict or undermine the strategic storyto surace and be dealt with.Companies can develop and embed strategicstories at any level o the organisation. There canbe a company-wide strategic story or one or aparticular business division. CIOs are beginningto invest in developing strategic stories to bringtheir IT strategies to lie so it makes sense orCEOs, other executives and board members.An organisation’s culture is dened by the storiesemployees, customers, partners and all the manystakeholders tell. So i you want to change yourcompany’s culture, you must thereore changethe stories people tell. Your strategic story willbecome entwined in your culture, providing anoverarching narrative that triggers new storieswhile also being modied by what happensin the organisation. The strategic story is alivebecause it is not merely the words that theexecutive team assemble and speak. Rather, thestrategic story is ed by the multitudinous actionspeople take in the organisation.Edgar Schein noted nearly a decade ago thatthere are relatively ew things leaders do thatinordinately aect organisational culture:
 what leaders pay attention to, measure andcontrol on a regular basishow leaders react to critical incidents andorganisational criseshow leaders allocate resourcesdeliberate role modelling, teaching andcoachinghow leaders allocate rewards and statushow leaders recruit, select, promote andexcommunicate.Each o these actions will trigger stories. Leadersmust be mindul that their actions are moreimportant in sustaining a strategic story thananything they say, because when people havea choice between believing a stated strategicstory or the actions o their leaders, they willalways take more notice o what the leaders do.

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