The Strategic Narrative: A Better Way To Communicate Change

strategic narrative

If you think your company’s strategy conversations should only take place at the most senior level, you could unknowingly be crippling your company’s bottom line. Research shows that companies whose members have a clear understanding of where the organization is headed and how their daily activities contribute to the success of the organization consistently outperform the competition. When communicating change within your organization, senior leaders need to relay company goals and strategy to all employees, and the most effective way to do this is through a strategic narrative. 

What Is A Strategic Narrative?

A strategic narrative centers on a leader’s ability to articulate a clear and compelling vision and strategy for the future of the organization. Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons of CCS Consulting Inc. specializes in helping leaders develop skills in this area. She describes a strategic narrative as “a written and spoken story of an imagined future captured in a ‘before,’ ‘now,’ and ‘to be’ sequence.”  Rather than presenting a series of bullet points and clip art in a PowerPoint deck, a powerful strategic narrative paints a picture of how a company’s past, present, and future fit together in a broader strategy context.

Strategic narratives are a form of storytelling, and like all good stories, they need a compelling plot, characters, a climax, and a conclusion. By telling this story, employees and other stakeholders will understand their place in the larger narrative and how they can take an active role in shaping the future of your organization.

In addition, this approach:

  • Positions the change in a respectful way. Narratives enable leaders to change the direction of the organization without disrespecting the hard work past leaders and employees have invested in it.
  • Helps leaders appear more human. Leadership storytelling through strategic narratives allows company leaders to bring their personal stories into the equation to ensure the messages hit home with others. When stakeholders can relate to you on a personal level, they will be more sympathetic and accepting toward change.
  • Creates an inclusive environment. Engaging other stakeholders in a dialogue surrounding the strategy not only helps align peoples’ efforts, but also sets the stage for an inclusive environment they can comfortably connect with.
  • Reinforces company values. By taking this approach, you will drive home the values you want to embed in the fabric of the organization moving forward.
  • Helps employees retain the information. Telling your company’s strategic narrative is more likely to inspire, motivate, and be retained than a dry PowerPoint presentation or report. And because stories engage multiple regions of the brain, stakeholders will absorb the message and see themselves in the bigger context.

Crafting An Effective Strategic Narrative

You should always consider using a strategic narrative to help communicate and engage stakeholders in any big-picture discussion. In situations when you might be asking others to uproot old habits or mentalities, this approach can ease the transition.

Inspirational and motivational strategic narratives aren’t made up on the fly — crafting a powerful narrative is an intensive process. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Invite all stakeholder perspectives. Bring your team together to discuss their assumptions and beliefs about what they’ve seen happening within the organization. By tapping them for information, you’ll gain insider knowledge you can use to refine your strategy and make it more relatable.
  2. Collaborate with your team to create a first draft. Work with your team to outline an initial draft, and seek input from other stakeholders involved in the strategy to make sure everyone’s needs and perspectives are accounted for.
  3. Refine your message. Forming a strategic narrative is about helping the group collectively make sense of the company’s current state and future possibilities. Identify the most appropriate delivery vehicle and situations for sharing the message, and complete a thorough audience analysis to understand their enduring mindsets and readiness. Most importantly, be prepared to iterate.
  4. Measure its success. Always measure and monitor progress after delivering your narrative to determine its effectiveness and refine your strategy for the future.

I’ve found strategic narratives to be an excellent way to help illustrate why extensive changes are important to us as a company.

For example, we recently had to implement sweeping changes to the way we operated to align with the current business landscape. Instead of focusing on one-way messaging, we crafted a narrative to help people understand that the old way wasn’t necessary wrong; the market was simply shifting, and we needed to stay relevant. I used examples everyone could connect with and shared the rationale for the pending changes.

While it was far from perfect, it went a long way in helping people understand the why behind the change and prompted an honest two-way dialogue about our collective success moving forward.

Facts and figures simply aren’t meaningful enough to rally employees and stakeholders around a significant change. If you open the floor and invite employees to take part in the narrative, they’ll respect your initiative and do everything in their power to make it a reality.

This article originally appeared on Forbes