Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Corporate Storytelling: Strategic Planning

Two of my favourite topics – storytelling and Roger Martin.

Moving from Strategic Planning to Story Telling
Strategic planning can be a painful process – SWOT analysis, financial spreadsheets, the fear of putting forward and defending your ideas. There is so much focus on what is practical and so much competition amongst units, that the resulting plan is often mundane and uninspiring.

Roger Martin recommends a different approach:

My solution? Think about a strategic option as being just a happy story about the future. It doesn't have to be right and it doesn't even have to be sensible. It just has to result in your organization being in a happy place in the future. In fact, if it were absolutely right and utterly sensible, your company would probably already be doing it.

It doesn't have to be constructed analytically. It is a holistic story — here is where we would find ourselves playing and how we would see ourselves winning. The only real requirement is that it be a happy, aspirational story. If it isn't happy, it isn't worth being an option in the first place.

If every participant tells one another a happy story, the group will have a wonderful list of options — and quite quickly, because participants won't feel that they have to work super hard and be terribly careful and be highly logical.”

What is Needed to Make it Work
Martin also proposes a unique approach for discussing the different strategic options without descending into adversarial position-taking:

“The solution lies simply in posing a single question, which I believe is the most important question in strategy. . . . Rather than have them talk about what they thought was true, ask them to specify what would have to be true for the option on the table to be a fantastic choice. It was magic. Clashing views turned into collaboration on really understanding the logic of the options.

If you think an idea is the wrong way to approach a problem and someone asks you if you think it's the right way, you'll reply ‘no’ and defend that answer against all comers. But if someone asks you to figure out what would have to be true for that approach to work, your frame of thinking changes. No one is asking you to take a stand on the idea, just to focus on what would have to be true for that idea to work. This subtle shift gives people a way to back away from their beliefs and allow exploration by which they give themselves the opportunity to learn something new.”

Roger Martin
Martin is the Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. For more information about his books and ideas, see my blog posts:

Wading into Complexity (The Design of Business)

Integrative Thinking (The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win through Integrative Thinking)

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