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How To Bring Strategy To Life Using The Power Of Story (Part 2)

Written by: Mark Hoogewerf

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Once upon a time, there was an organization on a quest with its people and resources. The tide of the turbulent outside world pushed and pulled, while the inner world scintillated with character. Sometimes it seemed like everything was creaking at the seams, like a three-master ship weathering the storm. But adventure beckoned. And success was within reach. And then…

A cloudy view of a mountain with an informational signage.

Here’s the second installment of the trilogy. Connecting the fascinating concepts of strategy and storytelling, providing a pragmatic approach for boosting your strategic narrative – the inspiring high-level story about the essence and impact of your organization.


The golden triangle


In abstraction, an organization is a triangle of strategy (the course), structure (its design and resources) and culture (the people and their behavior). A triangle is one of the strongest structures in nature, as long as the sides remain connected.


The art, the profession and the challenge of every leader or entrepreneur is to keep this “golden triangle” – this Strategy/Structure/Culture Trilemma©, as I like to call it – in balance during the lifecycle of the organization. While dealing with the forces of the inner and outer context.


A strategic narrative is a powerful tool for this. Like I said before, you can see a strategic narrative as The Hero's Journey (more or less the archetypal story structure) of your company (or yourself, but that's a different story).


So, this is your assignment: write the story, and live it. That's not always easy, but the great and convenient thing is that these two interact. Storytelling and storydoing – round and round it goes.


How strategic essentials come together


Before you can make the strategic story tellable, you must first get the essence clear.


For this, I’d like to use a combination of Simon Sinek's Golden Circle and a concept called the Vision Four-part (with thanks to Hans van der Loo & Jeroen Geelhoed and their Dutch book "Awake the vision with a kiss”). Let's call my slightly retouched version the Vision Matrix.


The Vision Matrix

The strategic narrative of your organization has two cornerstones: meaning and destination. Why do we exist? And where are we going? There’s conscience and dream. Identity and intention. The why and the cloud (avoid “dot” as that's unreal) on the horizon. They are connected, cleansing and invigorating each other.


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, management guru Peter Drucker quite rightly said. Because there’s no soul without people. No result without implementation. No change without accomplices. Effective strategy is living strategy.


Enter the human factor. What do we stand for? What do we find most important in our heart, head and hands? What does our conscience say? In other words, what are our core values? Not too many, five as a maximum, or else they won’t be remembered.


Since our organization is driven to make an impact and create value, we’re of course very good at something. So, when are we in the zone? How do we do things our way, a way that’s not so easy to copy? What makes us idiosyncratic, peculiar, extraordinary? These characteristics indicate our core qualities.


Now you have compiled the strategic essentials, the raw material for your strategic narrative.


So how do you start writing the story?


As I stated earlier, identity is the story between then and now. Vision is the story about later.

Strategy is the story between now and later. And change brings the adventures in every story. You already have a lot in da house to grasp your strategic essences.


For starters, the biography of your organization. How it once started. Moments of hard-hitting truth or awesomeness – of customer bliss, when employees went beyond, or when things turned completely south. Successes, setbacks and life lessons. Draw on this wealth.


And there is that dream. Sometimes subdued, sometimes dormant, sometimes very much alive in the company. The BHAG, “big hairy audacious goal”, moonshot (or Marsshot these days) or whatever it may be called. Define it, or look around for inspiration. Better stolen well than badly conceived. “You don't need to have a vision as long as you find a vision”, to quote Simon Sinek loosely. And dare to ask for help, that is also leadership.


When you have filled the matrix, you can start writing the history of your future. Already available strategies and plans will come in handy. You can evaluate and map them, recalibrate or develop them when necessary.


Make sure you don't go through this process alone. Because engagement is critical. Write, share and structure those braindumps. Apply story principles. And the tale will gradually take shape.


And in practice?


Take Nike (yeah, I know, a usual suspect, but it's just a good example). “Our Purpose is to move the world forward. We take action by building community, protecting our planet and increasing access to sport.” The version before said: “Our purpose is to unite the world through sport to create a healthy planet, active communities and an equal playing field for all.” See, it evolves.


This purpose statement overarches a story that unfolds in many facets. From social responsibility to products to related business processes. The catchphrase "Just Do It" is an element in the story. Nike actively encourages people to inspire each other and gives them a role in the narrative. “Nike exists to progress sports. But in recent years, we also face a broader challenge: to protect sport itself.”


And so, the customer, together with the brand, contributes to something much bigger – something legendary. Isn't that what we all want?


>> The end of this episode. Next time: how to approach the development process. <<


Mark Hoogewerf, Visiologist & presenters mentor at Noblahblah

Mark Hoogewerf loves stories. To him, the ultimate story is the legend: a time-traveling tale that connects dream and reality. What makes him professionally happy, is working on building those living legends: kick-ass stories about people and brands that create memories and movement.


Mark combines passion with strategy and idealism with results. He’s also an inspiration junkie. Inspired by the people he meets, the organizations he works with, and science (and) fiction. Despite – or because of – 25 years of expertise in communication, marketing and management, Mark is still learning every day.


While he helps clients write – and authentically present – the history of the future.








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Noblahblah, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

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Noblahblah was founded in 2018 as a training company to support better public speaking. Today we offer a broad range of trainings and coaching that help our customers develop their full potential by communicating with more confidence and more fun, on stage, online and in person.


Noblahblah trainings provide professionals with new skills to present more persuasively, to define and communicate their unique personal brand with more impact, and to literally shine online by building and engaging their LinkedIn network. A special focal point is harnessing the power of diversity and inclusion by cross-cultural trainings and through our Women Shine with Personal Branding workshops and our Women Raising Women interviews.


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Based in the Netherlands, our five executive trainers, from the United States, the Netherlands and Germany, bring a diversity of skills and experience.


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