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How To Bring Strategy To Life Using The Power Of Story (Part 3)

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.

 

Right, after some discussion the senior management team agrees: we’re going to invest in a better strategic narrative. In authenticity next to instrumentality. In mental and material value. But how do you tackle that? How do you merge the good old with the vital new? How do you build a solid new communication foundation for a purpose-driven organization?

Welcome to the conclusion of this trilogy – in which we connect the fascinating concepts of strategy and storytelling. This time we’ll be super concrete: you get a pragmatic approach to boost your strategic narrative – the inspiring high-level story about the essence and impact of your organization.


Developing your strategic narrative


Here’s my go-to method to the madness:

  1. Understand the context. Behold the setting. Be honest and clear about the framing, the process and the desired outcomes.

  2. Create a core team. Gather a group of representatives from all disciplines/departments, plus an objective, qualified moderator (because she/he can facilitate the process and co-create the content). Establish and monitor ownership throughout the process.

  3. Find your collective self. Identity comes from the past and manifests in the present. Collect stories about the origins and the life and times of your organization. Understand the essentials. And describe the meaning, the existential license to operate, of your organization.

  4. Go exploring together. See the world through your sharpened identity lens. Make mental round trips to Utopia. Hold against the light what you already have. Confront. Iterate. Start over if necessary. Bring it all together in a Vision Matrix (see this article). Think and feel your visionary creations through, until it’s right.

  5. Communicate the process and (partial) results. As the content coagulates, each participant has to take his/her role, drive it further in the various sub-groups in the organization. By keeping everyone connected and engaged, this positive virus will infect the entire culture.

  6. Implement where possible. Momentum and agility are crucial to success. Decide together which things can be made regular – and do it. Because the result comes with realization.

  7. Reflect and repeat. Don't keep running all the time. Slow down, contemplate, consider – so you can breathe and speed up again. Regularly look in the personal and collective mirror and learn from it. Reassess your course periodically and test (against) the strategic essentials. And rerun the process when relevant.

This resembles the process of change management, as John Kotter once described it (credit where credit is due). That is not surprising, because stories and change go together like yin and yang.


Content with a soul, expressed with charisma


Here’s an example story structure:

  1. We believe... (= our purpose)

  2. So that... (= our vision)

  3. But... (= situation)

  4. That causes… (= major problem and implications)

  5. Therefore... (= our collaborative solution approach)

  6. So that... (= impact and value)

  7. And now… (= call-to-action)

There are of course other recipes, but this one ticks quite some boxes and can easily be tailored to suit various occasions and goals. You can juggle the elements and content depth to fit your communication objective. The story in a commercial pitch differs from an internal meeting. It’s different in a policy plan than on the website.


Sometimes you’ll use a quick and simple structure, sometimes you’ll turn your story into a badass Hero's Journey. That's up to you. As long as your strategic narrative inspires people – and yourself.


Leveraging on the mechanics of change


Change is elastic; a new state tends to jump back to its previous state. Realistically, people don't change that fundamentally, and neither do organizations. We like to say it, but we usually don't sustain it (or just for a while).


This is actually quite helpful in upgrading the strategic narrative. The “genes” created when the organization was founded can almost always be retrieved later. In the behavior of experienced people. In customer or employee reviews. In the archives. In the core values. In anecdotes about success, failure or learning, such as: “You guys and girls always make it happen”, “Remember when everyone thought we weren't going to make it but then we pulled it off in the very last minute?”, “Oh man, things went more than a bit south then. But on the outside, nobody noticed”, “The defining moment was when…”.


(Re)writing the history of the future


As we know, contextual forces continue to impact the organization. The problem is often that the brand DNA dilutes and mutates due to circumstances. This happens to many organizations, large and small.


It starts with the little things, the feeling that something’s missing, something’s off, something’s chafing in the culture and/or in the communication. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes insidious, sometimes a gut feeling. Anyway, if you notice it, take it further. “Search your feelings, you know it to be true,” as Darth Vader said to Luke Skywalker.


Now ask yourself… What’s the purpose of your organization? Are you excited about the vision? Your colleagues too? Can you tell an inspiring story about it? Do customers or business partners get it? Really?


Just like in nature, new life is created by combining the right elements. The history of the future is not set. A better strategic narrative might very well start with you.


>> The end of this episode and this trilogy. <<

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

We are on a mission to save the world from blah blah blah.

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.


Our customers include Fortune 500 companies, universities, start-ups and scale-ups.

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


While our core activity is communication trainings, we offer a range of related services, from speechwriting and copywriting to executive speaker coaching to corporate events design and moderation.

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