‘A year from now, you are all here standing in front of the CEO and you say: we screwed up! Write the script for that year, what happened to take you there’. ‘A year from now, you are all here standing in front of the CEO and you say: we succeeded! . Write the script for that year, what happened to take you there’.
Very often I run these exercises (‘Success and Failure Scenarios’ )with parallel sub-teams of Boards, top leadership teams or management teams. Literally I ask them to write those scripts down, or at least find all the pieces and assemble them as a script would have been constructed- novel, film, short story… People are incredibly good at writing these scripts (the failure scenario is invariably faster …) and can relate to them much better than an account of goals and targets as written in the Strategic Plan. The storytellers inside all of us seem to enjoy the questions and the production of answers.
For a long time ago, in my work with clients, I have switched from ‘Mission & Visions’ to ‘Space in the world’ and ‘Compelling narrative’. It’s not a simple change of terms. The questions are different. The emphasis is ‘What do you want to be remembered for’ and ‘What’s the story, your story, perhaps you unique story?’ I also insist in writing down the headlines my clients would like to see in the newspapers in year one, or two, or whatever the time frame. A couple of lines, that’s all. I have seen more executives surprise each other in this exercise than in many other times of interaction. These visual narratives are very powerful. They bring the authentic part of us to the surface.
Another method I use is to ask people to answer (all in writing, again) a question posed by their children (or other children if they don’t have of their own): ‘Dad/Mum/Sir, what do you exactly do?’ The exercise always starts with some light jokes until it gets really serious. Try to articulate ‘maximize shareholder value’ to your 5 year old.
It’s scripts, narratives, stories; not targets, numbers and earnings per share. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with targets, numbers and earnings per share, but the signposts are not the places themselves. If you care about the journey and the place, you need a story. If you have a good, compelling one, there will be lots of good people traveling with you.