By Brad Addison - CoFactor Managing Partner; and communication, engagement and reputation management specialist
A strategic narrative is a clear and compelling story that defines the company’s vision, communicates its strategy, and embodies its culture. It’s a way for the organisation to explain why the company exists, what it stands for, and where it’s going. As businesses globally increasingly consider purpose alongside profit, the strategic narrative is ‘meaning making’ - authentically connecting the organisation with its audiences.
So what does a narrative contain that tells the story of your business to employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders in a way that helps drive the business forward?
What makes a compelling strategic narrative?
Understanding the company and its environment
Strategic narratives provide context - the organisation’s current reality - which gives all stakeholders a common framework for understanding the company, its operating environment and the journey it is on. As the strategic narrative will usually demand some kind of change from the organisation, this initial context is critical to understanding the company's future direction.
What your company and its stakeholders can achieve together
Key to the strategic narrative is a shared purpose, and future vision - the outcome that the company and its team, along with its stakeholders are working toward together. A shared purpose helps inspire your team and shift the relationship with your stakeholders from an observer or participant to co-creator.
Both rational and moving
The strategic narrative should appeal to both head and heart. It should be rational - capable of surviving scepticism through the use of facts and proof points. Startups often use a single data point to validate their promise, whereas more mature companies typically use market data. It should also contain a strong emotional appeal, providing meaning, optimism and a sense that company challenges can be overcome. It should create a vision that people want to be part of or to associate themselves with.
It should be simple and ensure consistency
Strategic narratives fold all the complexity that is part and parcel of your organisation into a simple story that people can grab onto. A clear narrative tells the company story simply and succinctly in a format that enables consistent delivery. It’s what makes it such a useful tool for employees and stakeholders to make sense of the company and the environment it operates in.
Getting everyone on the same page
A great narrative brings people together and creates strategic alignment through a simple story. It’s a perfect vehicle in which to share the company’s strategy, helping employees to realise how their combined efforts can propel the organisation forward. It helps ensure everyone is moving in the same direction; so each employee understands how the narrative relates to them.
A tried and tested format
Most stories have an underlying structure. Very often the narrative will follow the ‘hero’s journey’ format. A simple way to think about it is: what kind of company are we, where are we now, where does the company want to go and what stands in our way. Consider also what we need to do and how we need to behave and why this is something that’s important and meaningful for us to work towards.
The work isn’t over when you’ve crafted your strategic narrative. The narrative is just the beginning and should be a guide for company execution. Encourage company leaders to reference the narrative in their interactions with employees, connecting business decisions and initiatives back to its underlying story. Consistently reinforce the narrative and its key messages to wider stakeholders through creative and compelling communication and company collateral.