Blog

Telling Your Strategy Story and Making it “Stick”

While having a strategy map is a massive step forward in aligning your organization with your strategy, it’s only a start. You need to share it with your entire workforce and the best way to do this is to tell your company’s strategy story.

While your strategy map can ultimately stand alone in communicating your strategy, it’s never a good idea to introduce it to your employees in anything other than a forum that enables an interactive, two-way dialogue. Anything less sub-optimizes the traction your strategy (and strategy map) gets in your organization. This isn’t because your strategy map is too complicated for your employees to understand – it’s because an interactive discussion session allows you to share and explore your strategy with them.

So, why focus on communicating your strategy in the form of a story?

It’s because stories are “sticky” (an idea initially proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point” and then discussed in more depth by Chip and Dan Heath in “Made to Stick”) – they speak to people, stay in their minds almost word for word long after they are heard, and can be easily shared from person to person.

This is exactly what you want for your strategy so it’s to your advantage to translate it into a strategy story that will stick with your employees.

In his book “All Marketers Are Liars”, Seth Godin outlines the “must have” features of a great, sticky story – it needs to: be authentic and consistent with everything else related to the story and your company; make a bold and exceptional promise; be trusted and credible and/or come from a respected source; share a subtle idea or concept quickly (following the “less is more” principle); appeal to the senses and emotions; and reinforce what people already believe. Additional principles from the Heath brothers include: being simple but profound; creating interest and curiosity; and providing concrete images and suggesting human actions.

To maximize impact, your company’s strategy story must include ALL of these features.

To share your strategy story begin by discussing your company’s core values – these are the foundation of your organization and strategy so take your time with them.

Next outline your mission and vision. Talk about these elements with passion and excitement so that your company’s purpose and ultimate destination come to life.

With these critical components of your strategy clarified, move on to discussing your customer value proposition. An engaging conversation about what your company does for your customers and how you make them feel is compelling for your employees.

From there, talk about the actions that will give the customer what they want and achieve the mission and vision. Leveraging the strategy map, the best approach is to begin at the top with the financial perspective. Start by summarizing the overall objective of this perspective (i.e. to achieve profitable growth through optimizing cost structures, growing revenues through new customers or by getting existing customers to buy more from us or by expanding into new markets, etc.) and then use the financial strategic objectives to discuss concrete examples of how the company can achieve its overall financial objectives. Move down the strategy map taking the same approach to reviewing perspectives.

The key to getting at the action-oriented details of your strategy is to engage employees in a discussion about the strategic objectives on the strategy map.  As you progress through your strategy story, also be sure to discuss and explore the cause and effect relationships between overall business objectives and specific strategic objectives – this helps make your strategy story coherent for your employees.

Sharing your strategy story should take 10 – 15 minutes or so. The key is to communicate the high level customer and business objectives and then engage employees in a guided conversation where they discover the critical sub-objectives in your strategy that produce desired results.  Sharing your strategy story in this way allows it to gain maximum traction with your employees.

Let’s take a closer look at why this is the case.

Sticky Principle 1 – Be Authentic and Consistent: A great strategy story resonates with people and is aligned with what you value as an organization. In addition, a great strategy story fits together via cause and effect in a way that makes sense and is easy understand and explain – that is, it “flows”.

Sticky Principle 2 – Reinforce What People Already Believe: Your employees already want to achieve your customer and business objectives and they believe that they can – your strategy story supports these desires, and provides employees with more information about and insight into the plan to get there. 

Sticky Principle 3 – Be Trusted and Credible: The person telling your strategy story must be respected by the audience and the story itself must have credibility by clearly demonstrating the delivery of value. Having a company leader tell the story is great but hearing the strategy story told with conviction by a peer gives your strategy story an even higher credibility rating with your employees.

Sticky Principle 4 – Be Subtle and Quick/Simple but Profound: What is more simple and profound than having your strategy outlined clearly on just one page?

Sticky Principle 5 – Create Interest and Curiosity: Delivering your strategy story as an engaging two-way dialogue, not a presentation, creates interest and piques curiosity.

Sticky Principle 6 – Provide Concrete Images and Suggest Action: A great strategy story provides concrete images of what the strategy looks like in action and paints a clear picture of the impact it will have on customers and the business. With the help of your strategy map, you can do just this. Also, engaging employees in a two-way dialogue builds action right into the telling of your strategy story.

Sticky Principle 7 – Make a Bold and Exceptional Promise: A truly great customer and business strategy is full of stretch goals and audacious promises for the customer, employees, and the business itself.

 

Sticky Principle 8 – Appeal to the Senses and Emotions: As you paint a clear picture of what your strategy entails, and the results it will deliver for your customers, employees, and other stakeholders, work hard to engage the senses. Share your company’s strategy story with pride and enthusiasm and let your passion for the impact your company has on others stir the emotions of your employees.

Be sure to continually create the ideal conditions for every telling of your strategy story. Craft a strategy story that includes all of these features and share it in engaging situations and ways so that it is memorable for your employees. Also, train ALL of your employees (not just your managers) to share your strategy story with others and give them the resources they need to do the job well.

Taking these important steps will ensure that the idea that is your strategy story is sticky and spreads throughout your company on an ongoing basis.

This is an excerpt from my book Business Results Revolution: 3 Critical Questions and the Conversations That Transform Business Performance Every Day  Like what you’ve read? Please let me know. To take a closer look at this book please visit the book website.  

2 Comments

  1. Mike Portworsnick
    May 22, 2012

    Hi Sandy
    I like this articel, it is great.
    To develop a strategy is one thing, to get everybody really working on it is another thing. We are all knowledge worker and do produce great stuff, but it so easy to forget telling other about this.
    To tell strategy as a story is for me a great way to get all staff motivated. That will never work if you just send Emails, Powerpoints, using Sharepoint, etc.
    Please, put me on the pre-order list for your book. I’m looking forward reading it!
    best regards
    Mike

  2. Sandy Richardson
    May 23, 2012

    Hello Mike:
    I am glad that you enjoyed the post! Engaging employees with the business strategy is such a critical success factor – I hope that more organizations will take the time to share their strategy story with employees and other stakeholders.
    I will let you know when my book is available.
    Cheers, Sandy