A branding exercise or key component for organisation effectiveness?
‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea’
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Creating the who, what, why and when of a business can often be a bit of a box-ticking exercise.
It is common practice for strategic ‘purpose’, vision and values to be created in isolation from the whole business. We have heard many businesses tell us how they hired a consultant to help form their vision and values, but then did not know how to effectively embed them within the organisation. As a result, they are left ‘hanging around’ and fall prey to being wheeled out for a new business presentation to show brand personality.
To get these elements to connect and work with your business requires a more holistic approach, which starts at the strategic narrative. This means taking a step back, looking at the organisation in its entirety, and defining brand and purpose in a way that is internally relevant and can be underpinned through practical examples and a real-world narrative.
Forming a narrative
In simple terms, the strategic narrative is your business story. It is the human side of the business and should articulate the purpose of your business – what is the reason for its existence? What are your long-term ambitions? What behaviours are employees expected to exhibit and follow? Essentially, it is the glue that aligns and drives the organisation forward.
A strategic narrative provides an organisation with a backbone, the strong core around which everything else can be built.
A narrative will ensure everyone is on the same page and clear about where the organisation is heading and how it intends to get there. It is also an essential component when creating high-performing teams.
Reflecting on the past, your company’s reason for being did not come out of nowhere and it is important to remind people of the drivers that led to its creation – it is also known as your brand DNA. Additionally, when looking to the future, you and/or your leadership team will inevitably have a vision, but are you all on the same page when it comes to shaping and telling that story?
It is fascinating to work with leadership teams on forming a strategic narrative, because everybody has a different take on how they see the business. This is why the creation of the narrative is so important – to ensure everybody is clear and on the same page. However, the process must start with the board and must have collective commitment in bringing it to life.
The need for buy-in and clarity is critical because, once formed, it is the leadership team who will then be the guardians of the strategic narrative. That is not to say that once the narrative is agreed by the leadership team, it is cast in stone – far from it. What works in principle may not work on the ‘shop floor’.
This is where leadership comes into relief. Once formed, the narrative is then tried and tested across the organisation, the cycle of feedback begins and it is where the board needs to actively listen and communicate to ensure all employees are on board and engaged.
Creating a strategic narrative
The important thing to consider about a strategic narrative is that not only must it be relevant, realistic and inspiring, but it also needs to be believable, relevant and firmly grounded. It must be personal to the organisation and be an accurate representation of the business’ past, present and future that employees will recognise and identify with.
Being able to tell stories of how actions align to purpose enable members of your team to personally connect with the meaning and importance of what your business is doing.
To begin creating a strategic narrative that reflects all these things, the following questions should be considered by an organisation:
- Why do we exist?
- Where are we headed?
- How do we intend to get there?
- How can we make this clear for everyone to understand?
By going through this process, an organisation can begin to establish a narrative that is unique to their own circumstances which provides a foundation from which everything else can flow.
The strategic narrative as part of purpose
Fostering shared purpose takes smart, creative thinking and serious consideration about the shape, size and type of the organisation. Leaders need to help employees understand and relate to it before they can put it into practice.
Shared purpose is not threatened by new members of a team but is understood by new colleagues and helps assimilate them into your business environment. Shared purpose is not threatened by a change in objectives or goals if these are always set in the context of what is meaningful and important for your business.
Providing a constant through times of change
Despite shifting circumstances or technological developments, what an organisation stands for should remain constant, even if the destination they are aiming to reach may change. The strategic narrative should be robust enough to withstand these pressures.
People want to know that their efforts matter and what they are working towards has meaning. A carefully considered, well-defined and articulated strategic narrative provides this. It is the guiding light that ensures everyone is aligned, exhibiting shared values and inspires them to play their part in realising the organisation’s ambitions.