Strategic stories provide the gist

Posted by  Mark Schenk —February 19, 2012
Filed in Strategy

People need the gist: the context, the big picture, the why, before the details become important or meaningful. Read this piece of text from Drew Westen’s book ‘The Political Brain’.(1)

The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many….After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually they will be used once more and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated.

Yes. Its hard to read. It doesn’t make much sense and its entirely forgettable. But what happens if I tell you the text refers to doing your laundry? Suddenly it makes sense. Its a good example of what happens when we rush to the details, that tactics and the ‘what’ without taking the time to explain the ‘why’.

And yet, we often find ourselves going straight to the details and skipping over the context. This particularly applies to strategy – we are eager to tell people what we want them to do. And this is one of the reasons why a recent survey of 460 companies found that 80% of people don’t know or understand their organisation’s strategy.(2)

We’ve worked with nearly half of the ASX20 companies to turn their strategy into a strategic story and the results have been phenomenal. One of the reasons these stories work is that they explain why the strategy is being pursued. We recently had a call from one of our clients from a national organisation saying he’d just visited one of their remote sites in NSW and the staff there were able to give a pretty good overview of the company’s strategy.

For more information, read our recent article ‘How to make your strategy stick with a strategic story‘. And remember, people need to understand the gist before they can make sense of the details.

1. Drew Westen (2008). The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, page 143.

2. Vanson Bourne (2011). The link between strategic alignment and staff productivity: A survey of decision-makers in enterprise organisations.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

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