I see a lot of company strategies in my line of work, and many of them are just awful:
- A 40-page PowerPoint deck crammed with hundreds of data points
- A presentation detailing seven initiatives, each supported by complicated charts (including Gantt, Pareto, Histogram and Mekko)
- A written narrative with 100-dollar words that nobody understands
Sure, I get that this level of detail may be necessary for the executive team, the board of directors and those geeks in Finance. But this approach isn't effective for getting everyone else--especially employees--on board.
To articulate your strategy in a compelling way, you need to move away from the PowerPoint and tell a story. Before I share how to do so, let's:
Understand what strategy is really all about
We'll start with Howell J. Malham, Jr., author of I Have A Strategy. No You Don't. The Illustrated Guide to Strategy, who explains that "strategy is a military term derived from the Greek word strategia meaning 'generalship' or 'the art of the general.'"
According to Malham, the simplest way to define a business strategy is this: "A planned, doable sequence of actions designed to achieve a distinct, measurable goal."
A strategy is a strategy if it has:
- A purpose.
- A plan
- A sequence of actions or tactics.
- A distinct, measurable goal.
But wait, says Malham, the most important part of the strategy is this: "Every strategy needs a narrative . . . a story which helps you package and sell your strategy. A story creates buy-in and inspires others to understand, maybe even love your strategy."
Don't hide behind fluff when expressing strategy
The problem is that many strategies are just the equivalent of empty suits. You know: well-tailored, neatly pressed, but they don't actually have any substance.
Richard Rumelt, author of Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, calls this problem "fluff."
"Fluff," writes Rumelt, "is superficial restatement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzz-words. Fluff masquerades as expertise, thought, and analysis."
How can you identify whether a strategy is "fluffy?" When the strategy contains "'Sunday' words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking," Rumelt explains.
Use these 12 questions to get to the heart of your strategy
To get beyond fluff, you need to go deep to uncover the substance of your strategy story. Lois Kelly, author of Beyond Buzz, offers this terrific method for building your narrative:
If you're a leader, work with other leaders to answer 12 essential questions about the story of your strategy.
If you're not a leader, but a communication professional like me, facilitate discussions with leaders to elicit their answers to these 12 questions:
- We believe passionately that . . .
- People in our industry waste too much time talking about . . .
- The thing our customers should be worrying about is . . .
- Conventional thinking says (fill in the blank about a relevant industry issue) . . . But the real issue is . . .
- Solving this one problem would change the game for our customers . . .
- We never want to spend time on . . .
- Our product/service category matters more/less today because . . .
- People think our biggest challenge is . . . But it's really . . .
- What I'd really like to say to prospects is . . .
- To make customers believers, the need to understand this one thing . . .
- If I had a crystal ball, I'd predict these changes for our industry over the next two years . . .
- What gets me most excited about our industry/business is . . .
Build your story
Once you have the information--and the context you need--it's time to build your story. Here are three ways to go about it:
- Understand the characteristics of a good business story and structure your content accordingly.
- Use one of the most persuasive narrative frameworks ever created, based on Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
- Have a little fun with your story. For example, consider how a two-minute song can speak volumes.
Now that's better than a dry, dull PowerPoint, isn't it?