Matt Stephens, author of Revolution in a Heartbeat, shares his tips on how strategic narratives help successful leadership:
“But we’ve told them a thousand times….” or words to that effect. We hear this a lot from exasperated executive teams when we give them Heartbeat results saying that people don’t know the organisation’s strategy.
Senior leaders are very close to the strategy and have worked long and hard on getting it right. But this can often be a handicap when it comes to explaining it, and getting others fired up and excited. We help by giving an external perspective, and asking the ‘dumb’ questions which can keep it simple. In doing this, we have found 5 key things which help:
- Develop a simple narrative – technical language, management speak, and complex sentences turn people off. On the other hand, most of us respond to stories and find day to day language accessible. We have helped organisations express their strategy through a story with a series of key chapters which take people through the challenges the organization faces, why it’s important to tackle them, what it plans to do, what this means for people working there, why it’s exciting and the benefits of success. All the way through, it’s important to keep it conversational, using everyday language. Any hint of complexity can give people licence to switch off.
- Senior leaders need to show the way – the top team have huge influence. If they present the strategic narrative to other tiers of leaders, it can have a big impact on how they then do things. This is especially the case if the top team can bring parts of the narrative to life using their own stories and experiences.
- Equip team leaders to share the narrative locally – seeing the top team present the strategy differently will be a strong encouragement to other leaders to do the same. Often, though, they need help to adopt a similar approach themselves. We have found giving team leaders a clear, step by step structured guide helps a lot. We call it Talking Points and it lays out key messages, questions to ask, exercises and activities.
- Help people to share their own stories – as well as understanding what the strategy is, people need to see ongoing evidence that it is being followed, and having an impact. Updates from senior people can only go so far. What really keeps people engaged is a regular stream of stories which show real people doing real jobs applying the strategy and making it work. We equip local leaders to help their teams identify a story which will have impact and use Heartbeat as a simple mechanism for them to share them.
- Keeping it going – strategies need to be living things. To have impact, they must be talked about regularly, and other messages should be linked with it so people get a sense of coherence and progress. Having a simple and clear narrative makes this easier by giving straightforward messages which can be repeated and reflected in other communications – it becomes a consistent point of reference.
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