Summary: Most strategies look like “bulleted to-do” lists, but they don’t force you to sequence and think through the critical relationships or strategies. Transform your business plan from bullet points into a story that tells everyone not only what the goals are but also how to reach them.
At Lockheed Martin, I have frequently heard the story of how Executive Vice President Tom Burbage partnered with two of Lockheed`s mortal enemies, Northrop Grumman and BAE, to beat out Boeing/McDonnell for the F-35 Joint Striker Fighter contract – the largest contract in Pentagon history.
Stories like this one become the shapers of culture. They are passed around the company as folklore, and provide lessons derived from complex events. Research indicates that people can learn and remember detailed situations and courses of action much better through stories. In a fundamental way, then, storytelling and strategic planning are related.
It’s remarkable that most organizations discard the concept of stories when they do their strategic planning. Most strategies that I’ve seen over the last 25 years look like “”bulleted to-do”” lists with tactical plans behind them.
What’s wrong with bullets?
Bullets lists present only an illusion of clarity. They do not force you to think through the critical relationships of strategies and sequence of events in order to attain your goals. This can cost you plenty.
Consider these major objectives from a standard five year strategic plan.
- Increase market share by 25%
- Increase profits by 30%
- Accelerate new product introductions to five per year.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Left as a list, however, the plan leaves critical assumptions out about how this is going to happen. For example:
Scenario 1. Improved marketing will increase market share that results in increased profits – thus providing funds for accelerated new product development.
Scenario 2. New product development will result in both increased profits and market share simultaneously.
Scenario 3. Take what profits we have and invest in new product development. This will create increased market share resulting in organic growth and increased profit.
Which is it? These scenarios make radically different assumptions about how the organization is going to achieve its plan. Even worse, each strategy may be worked independently, losing the synergy and integration it takes to execute with speed and accuracy.
Develop a strategic narrative. Transform your business plan from a list of bullet points into a story that tells everyone not only what the goals are but also how to reach them.
Write a coherent and insightful story that includes:
The current reality – the environment, industry key success factors, your capabilities and objectives
The challenge – how you stack up to the competition, critical issues that are obstacles to success
The resolution – how the company can overcome the obstacles and win in the market plan. A convincing story brings out the interrelationships and the cause and effect of your strategies.
As one executive expressed, “If you read just bullet points, you may not get it, but if you read a narrative plan, you will. If there is a flaw in the logic, it glares right out at you!”