Why not join us at The Origins Asia Pacific Business Narrative Conference in Bangkok 4-5 October 2012. Register here http://origins2012.eventbrite.com/
We’re privileged at Anecdote to see many company strategies. Interestingly, the sizes and shapes of these strategies don’t necessarily correlate with the sizes and shapes of the organisations that created them. We’ve seen some of the biggest companies in the world struggle to put their fingers on what a strategy is, and we’ve seen some smaller, local firms clearly and succinctly describe how they are creating their own futures – and we’ve seen everything in-between, too!
The forms these strategies take also vary enormously. We’ve seen everything from 76-page tomes replete with bar charts and spreadsheet excerpts to a single page adorned with a simple picture. (We’ve also seen nothing at all – more organisations than you would expect operate without any documented strategy.)
Despite their variety, however, these strategies usually have a number of things in common. Most contain a mission or purpose statement. And nearly all of them describe a set of values, as well as goals or objectives. But in almost every case there’s something vital missing: an indication of how the organisation plans to achieve success. At Anecdote, we like to call this a company’s bold strategic moves.
When a company produces a strategy without bold moves, it’s as if it is saying, ‘We know where we want to go, and we know what it is going to be like when we arrive, but we haven’t the foggiest idea of how we are going to get there’. It’s like everyone is expected to just make their own way to the stated destination, doing the best they can under the circumstances. The result: a huge waste of time and effort, and the erosion of morale and confidence in the organisation’s leadership, making the next strategic effort even harder to pull off.
While on vacation recently I read the book Moneyball, which gives a great example of the power of bold moves. You might have seen the movie of the same name, which stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball club. Well, Billy had a clear goal for his club: to reach the play-offs of the World Series. And he also knew how he was going to achieve this goal: 1) focus his batters to just get on base, and 2) use baseball statistics to identify players who were good at getting on base and recruit them. These two bold moves catapulted the Oakland A’s to the top of the league in 2002.
Bold moves should be broad and simple. Before the merger with Billiton, BHP took the bold move of shedding ‘all parts of the business that weren’t natural resources’. They sold their steel business, their IT consulting division and their fleet of vehicles, among many other things. Their goal was to focus on being a leading global resources company, and by many measures they achieved it.
Bold moves should be plausible. When you are telling your employees, clients and shareholders what you are planning to do, you have to tell a story that makes sense. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a story that stretches the imagination so long as in the realm of possibility, it’s doable. When IBM took the bold move of building and leading with IT services, the history and capabilities of the company supported that strategy. It was a plausible story.
Bold moves should also be coherent. They should support the business model, each move working in concert with all the others. For instance, it makes no sense to announce, ‘We are going to move all customer interactions offshore’, and then to try and complement this with, ‘And we are going to deepen our customer intimacy’. This is neither plausible or coherent – in fact, reading that back to myself, it’s a little creepy.
Finally, bold moves should be supported by the actions of a company’s leaders, not just their words. Nothing will kill a strategy quicker than its creators acting in a way that contradicts it. This often happens when management are not on the same page as their own strategy, when they are not united in their understanding of it. They need to take the time and effort to agree on what the strategy means, and to care about it.
So ask yourself: Does your company strategy have any bold moves?
An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.
“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.
“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”
“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”
I initially found this story here.
We’re excited to announce that Kevin is coming to Auckland to run our ‘Influencing change with the natural power of stories’ workshop on the 1st November.
We have so many followers and Anecdotally subscribers from New Zealand, we thought it was about time we made a return visit to Auckland to showcase our approach to story-work. We hope you can make it.
To find out more about the courses and to register please go here. ‘Early Bird’ rates are available until 31 August 2012.
Most leaders really struggle to use plain language, especially when it comes to communicating something like strategy.
Here at Anecdote we specialise in oral storytelling, and we see this every time we work with a group of leaders in helping them tell their strategic story, or when using stories to build employee engagement or when they are trying to influence change in their organisations.
They don’t seem to be able to get past the formal language they are used to using in business.
Instead of talking the way they normally would when they are sharing anecdotes informally, they resort to using big words, abstractions, and terms that people just don’t use in every day speech. And it gets in the way.
Using your own language, your own words, the way you normally speak increases the chances that people understand what you are saying, and what they need to do to make this new strategy a success.
With a bit of coaching, guidance and sharing a few stories we can usually get a group of leaders to tell their stories using plain language. But its much harder when it comes to how they write. Our default when writing is not to write as we talk, but to use much more formal language, complete with lots of complicated terms and big words.
I saw a great little tip yesterday about how to make your writing more informal.
I was reading an article about Irish author Maeve Binchy who passed away yesterday. She was a hugely successful author who has sold over 40 million books, been translated into 37 different languages and, in 2000, was ranked third in the World Book Day poll of favourite authors.
Part of her success has been put down to her informal, almost ‘chatty style’.
“I don’t say I was ‘proceeding down a thoroughfare’, I say I ‘walked down the road’. I don’t say I ‘passed a hallowed institute of learning’, I say I ‘passed a school’.
When she was asked how she did it she said she simply wrote the way she spoke.
That’s the tip. Before you send anything out that you have written, read it aloud. Does it flow? Does it sound like the way you would speak? Are there words in their you would never say in conversation?
If it doesn’t flow, if it doesn’t sound like the way you speak, if you are using words you would never use in conversation – then keep editing.
Maeve Binchy also gave one more reason to use plain language, and to write the way you talk;
“You’re much more believable if you talk in your own voice.”
So move away from the big words, use plain language and you will build trust in you and the messages you are sending.