Every Strategy Needs a Narrative
“The IUCN estimates there are currently about 26,000 polar bears worldwide. But without action on climate change, we could lose all but a few polar bear populations by the end of the century.”
This heart-wrenching statistic from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group was posted on Polar Bear International. They are an organization dedicated to polar bear studies and Arctic preservation. With statistics and messaging just like this, Polar Bear International is able to establish itself as a leading global organization regarding research and awareness of what is truly one of the most alarming climate disasters known.
And while the cause is noble and just, the messaging that goes into it is crucial – as this strategy is what makes Polar Bear International seen as an authority.
With just these two sentences, amongst other short, punchy, and direct quotes, a successful strategy grounded in narratives (or storytelling) is formed. While we typically associate storytelling with escapism and entertainment and, therefore, the opposite of being strategic, it is an essential component of strategically delivering any message to an audience.
Why Do We Use Strategies?
A business typically is grounded in strategy to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The strategy emerges from everyone knowing where the company is currently and where they want to go in the future. Likewise, goals and performance measures should all emerge from every employee understanding these and moving in the same direction.
However, just having a strategy written down somewhere is not enough. Sure, it’s a good starting point, but it lacks the ability to motivate everyone.
In general, so many strategy documents and planning sessions fail or don’t have any momentum because they lack any directive on how that strategy will be implemented.
By adding a storytelling element to these documents, businesses can quickly bridge the gap between nebulous ideas and real-world implementation.
Narratives Are Vital
If you remember back to your high school English Lit classes, you may remember your teacher talking to the class about the intention of various forms of writing. For example, when we discuss narratives or stories, these texts aim to entertain readers. Narratives were the types of texts we loved over the others because of this reason.
Human history brims with examples of literature that withstands the test of time, captivating not only the audiences of its era but also retaining a timeless appeal across multiple generations. These literary gems endure because they possess the ability to entertain and resonate with people across different time periods. These would be the classics, those books that have been read for many years – sometimes even millennia!
Humans, many historians argue, understand history and the world around them through storytelling. We often yearn for hero figures and overcoming great challenges to reach a glorious goal. And while they entertain us, plenty of other messages and information are being transmitted too.
So when we think about narratives and business strategy, think about narratives bridging the gap in communication between what a business wants to do and how it connects with an audience. Humans aren’t purely motivated by logic and facts alone; we are not robots. There are plenty of logical elements in strategies, but that doesn’t mean they will translate into success with an audience. It may have a direct result on some people, but the window of success will be quite narrow and tight.
Narratives afford flexibility. Individuals possess the power to manipulate and transform stories into something deeply meaningful on a personal level. Hence, it becomes imperative for a strategy to incorporate a storytelling element as a means of effective communication.
Using storytelling to communicate with an audience will effectively put that business ahead of its competitors. The business world has known this for many years. Think of the example of Nike. Their iconic slogan, “Just Do It,” transfers their strategy to the individual, making the consumer part of the brand’s success. The Nike customer is the company’s success story, and they are the main character in the story.
Narratives are Crucial in Any Business Strategy
A business will only succeed when they have new answers to an old problem or can revolutionize how we do things. Therefore, it is imperative that a strategy remains rooted in our reality and actively unveils something unique and beneficial through the power of collective imagination. German bestselling novelist and business strategist Veit Etzold says, “Strategies are stories, started in the factual present and resolved in the as yet undetermined future.”
How to Create a Strategy Story Together
Business strategies were typically created at the higher levels, like executives and those in the C-Suite. However, not all great ideas and insights emerge from people higher up in the chain, and many businesses are far more collaborative. New technologies further this practice, like Zoom, Slack, and AirBoard, which are present in most companies today. When strategy creation is more open to employees who see customers and competitors far more regularly than their bosses, the resulting strategy can be more rational and comprehensive. Plus, the positive feelings of collective ownership cannot be ignored either.
Establish the facts surrounding the story.
- What are your business’:
- Customer profiles (location and behaviors)
- Revenue streams
- Revenue fluctuations (The causes for these fluctuations.)
Always Ask Questions
When creating a business strategy, you will inevitably encounter a juncture where the need for structure and exploration converge, posing a challenge to maintain their alignment. Raising rich, and considered questions can go a long way to maintaining a balance between structure and exploration. Questions will keep the focus and maintain a coherent strategy story.
Remember the 5W’s, 2H’s method. That is who, what, where, when, why, how and how much. A business should readily know the answer to all these!
What follows are some questions that will help your business gather observations and facts, while others will help you make sense of your business’ story. And then there are some others that will help plan the future. Once you’ve answered all these, your strategy story will begin to emerge.
|OBSERVATION||MAKING SENSE NOW||FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS|
|THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SUPPLY & DEMEND||
Start Writing The Story
Just like any story, your strategy story will need a beginning, middle and ending. Except yours will be more about the past, present, and future as opposed to traditional narrative features like conflict, story arcs and flashback scenes!
Consider the polar bear crisis we opened with.
The Past: Polar Bears are dying at alarming rate due to climate change.
The Present: If we don’t curb climate change soon, they’ll become extinct.
The Future: Organizations like IUCN and Polar Bear International are doing all they can to stop this from occurring via initiatives and plans to encourage polar bear populations to thrive, once again.
The responses to the table of questions above will help you connect the past, present, and future of your business into a cohesive strategy story. Eventually, a narrative will emerge that begins with what you do now, describes what changes needs to happen, and will conclude with what you will need to do going forward.
Trial The Tale!
To give your strategy story a test run, give it to employees who will need to know and execute it anyway! External partners and other stakeholders will also want to be familiar with the strategy story. Embrace constructive feedback fearlessly and proactively make the necessary tweaks to the strategy in response.
Tell The Tale!
Now that you know how it tested and have refined, condensed, and optimized it, it’s time to take the plunge and roll out your new narrative-infused strategy campaign.
Everyone needs to be on board, and this likely won’t be difficult if various employees and stakeholders have had some role in its creation.
Hopefully, your new strategy will be immediately digestible and understood. Constantly refer back to it to ensure its core message is apparent within minutes of someone reading it. Never turn down the opportunity to refine and optimize it so that the central message remains front and center. Lastly, make sure to repeatedly recount the strategy story, treating it like a captivating narrative that deserves retelling.
Context and intent are vital to creating a good strategy; the same goes for narratives. Humans love storytelling and actively seek engagement through them, which justifies the integration of storytelling into a robust strategy. Furthermore, incorporating a compelling narrative element elevates the impact of facts and statistics, allowing them to coexist harmoniously. And lastly, a story-based strategy will work as a rallying cry for everyone involved. It ensures that they will buy into it, making it a strategy that is far more likely to succeed. This is good news for the bottom line and bad news for the competition.
Incorporating storytelling into business strategy is a powerful way to bridge the gap between ideas and implementation, as well as engage and resonate with audiences. Narratives have the ability to entertain, inform, and inspire, making them an essential component of successful communication. By creating a strategy story together, businesses can tap into the power of collective imagination and create a narrative that connects with employees, customers, and stakeholders. The integration of storytelling into strategy not only enhances the impact of facts and statistics but also acts as a rallying cry for everyone involved. Embracing storytelling in strategy is a surefire way to gain a competitive advantage and achieve success in the marketplace.