The following paragraph found by Ros Gray really intrigued me.
“Five essential actions to make our transformation successful are to build a portfolio innovation strategy across the entire value chain; a disciplined strategic approach to innovation; speed to value; internal capability to make innovation everyone's job; and use ecosystems to constantly sense the market and see what's on the edge. We need integrated agile approaches with waterfall management - because that’s where the rubber hits the road.”
If you understood it in one, you’re smarter than me.
Because it’s a great example of what can go wrong when a group of smart people come up with smart ideas to change the reality of their business. And then expect the rest of the organisation to get on board with whatever they said. Ideally verbatim.
It was also a glorious reminder to myself of the questions I should always ask when storytelling a transformation. Perhaps you find some of them useful too.
#1. Am I speaking a language everyone understands?
I get it. Fancy words make us sound smart. I like them too.
But when executives start using words like transversal, ecosystem and seamless omnichannel experiences, people will get lost in the management mumbo-jumbo that is unleashed upon them. More than once I’ve sat with leaders admitting they didn’t really understand these words themselves.
This is, of course, highly problematic, as if your people don’t understand what you are saying, they are unlikely to act on it in the way you intended.
Suggested action: formulate your calls for a transformation in a language that doesn’t require a management degree or native-level fluency in the language of your headquarters. Being understood is the first step to convincing anyone. Or put differently: Would you speak to your mother like that?
#2. Do I take my audience’s perspective?
You have worked hard on your transformation plans and are convinced your organisation must act on it.
But the rest of your organisation wasn’t in the room when you, your colleagues and consultants came up with these great ideas. They don’t know, or may not even care, about the reasoning that led to your strategic conclusions. So, you just as well might talk about the weather on Mars.
Leadership teams often live in their own (perception) bubble. The stories they tell reflect this. But any transformation that doesn’t connect to what your people really care about is doomed.
Suggested action: Pitch your transformation to your employees in the same way that you would pitch your products to your customers. Start from their worldview and then work towards what you want to achieve. Show them benefits and personal gains. Remember that resonance is the first step to action.
#3. How can I nuance my transformation story by audienceI usually like the strategic stories I tell.
I work hard to make them exciting. Make them feel like an adventure.
But what motivates me, may not apply to everyone. I thrive on autonomy, ambiguity, and exploration. As a result, my stories naturally resonate with those who are like me. But they may turn off those who choose safety over uncertainty. Or care more about belonging. Team spirit. The fulfilment of purpose.
Point is, the story that excites you will not resonate with everyone. To connect to everyone in your business, you need to segment and calibrate. Just like your sales and marketing team would do for your customers.
Suggested action: Tweak the way you tell your transformation story to the (emotional) needs and values of the different employee psychographics in your business. And yes, that means understanding who they are. Or even talking to them 😉.
#4. Can I make the transformation co-creative?
The best strategy is not the one that looks best on PowerPoint. It’s the one that is supported by the organisation.
By implication, the sooner you can involve the people who need to get hands on in transforming the business, the better this will be. Yes, this will make the creation process more complex and messy than calling your favourite consultancy. But if your people feel like they ‘own’ the strategy, it becomes significantly more powerful. After all, storytelling is a two way street.
Suggested action: Involve your people in the development of your transformation story as early as possible. Present them with the challenges your business faces and encourage them to help you come up with solutions. Buy-in matters.
#5. Can I make it a real transformation?
Most of what strategy consultants call transformation is actually nothing more than enforcing compliance. A senior leadership team comes up with a direction, which they expect the business to implement. In which fundamental criticism is managed by mindset change programmes. (sorry, was that too brutal?).
But while compliance is sometimes the only workable avenue, I always like to ask myself whether there are ways to achieve more. Whether I can offer insights or experiences that make people truly change their perspective and actively work towards a new direction. I don’t always find the answer, but it’s always worth the effort.
Suggested action: Dig for the deeper beliefs (myths) that people hold about the way your business worked historically, and you expect it to work in the future. Then see if you can provide stories or, ideally, experiences that expand these views in the new direction.
#6. Do I really know what I’m doing?
All the above questions assume that the transformational direction for the business is the right one. That the group of smart people who came up with a smart strategy actually knew what they were doing.
But every one of us has biases. Works on partial information. Tend to believe in the stories we tell ourselves. However, what seems like a good idea at one point may turn out as a horrible mistake later. Or vice versa.
Suggested action: As you go ‘transforming’ your business, pay careful attention to every objection or hurdle. Yes, they may be elements you need to work through. But they can also indicate that you haven’t got your story straight. Or that you may have lost the plot yourself. So park your ego, be ready to listen, and to change your mind.
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.