Strategic Leadership is “Replacing Old Stories with New Stories”

Renew Blue Timeline BBY founding to present A straightforward strategic initiative technique is this: drawing an organizational timeline, starting with the founding of the organization and continuing to the present. Interspersed along the timeline are important events that have influenced the present condition. I call these important events turning points, and they often require some digging and strategic thought to identify and describe them.  As any student of history will tell you, sometimes small events and actions have lasting impact.

By definition, strategic initiatives are transformational. The current initiatives should be shown on this timeline, as they represent a turning point that will have future consequences.

Before continuing, please consider this list of five key points that support the ideas in this article:

  • Strategic initiatives close a performance gap
  • Strategy involves conversation between stakeholders
  • Strategic initiatives are responses to a problem or opportunity
  • The portfolio of strategic initiatives are few in number
  • Strategic initiatives are a story in the organization’s longer narrative arc. This perspective makes it easier to invoke the power of story and role of Chief Story Teller. Stories gain value because they illustrate a tension between forces, such as prevailing over a competitor, or solving a difficult problem.

An Example

Here is an example of a timeline for Best Buy (BBY), starting with its founding and ending at the announcement of its Renew Blue strategic initiative in November 2012. I created the nearby timeline based on data available on Wikipedia and BBY’s web site.

Many of the noted items on the timeline are turning points. For example, a tornado destroys a store.  We can imagine a BBY manager asking, “What should we do?” and someone saying, “Let’s have a sale can call it a best buy.”  The tension is in the question and its resolution is in the answer.  Do you see how that makes a story more interesting and compelling AND it alters the company’s narrative arc?

Now, let’s look at the Renew Blue strategic initiative as a turning point.  As I have detailed in this article, BBY has to face some daunting challenges in new marketplace realities and the competition from

“Future Cast” The Timeline – Applying Strategic Thinking within the Strategic Initiative

So far, I have used the timeline in the sense of telling retrospective stories that look back into history. Since strategy is a response to a future that hasn’t happened yet, we need to spend some energy on looking into the future. To do this, I take the timeline and draw a set of arrows (typically, about 15 years). See the nearby graphic for an example of this applied to Renew Blue.

Renew Blue Future CastingFinally, the tasks of leadership involve challenging people to create a preferred future. BBY is unlikely to return to its industry leadership position simply by shrinking its footprint and training its blue shirt sales force.  Instead, BBY future may lie in a new business model that would be unrecognizable as a big box retailer.  Only time will tell if BBY can find a fit of its business model with its environment.

No one knows what BBY’s future might be, but I do know that answering these questions would stimulate the creation of an effective strategy:

What present problems and opportunities are relevant to our future? What are the scenarios of the future? Where (and over whom) will we find advantage? What are the insights?

My advice to any strategic initiative addressing organizational renewal is this: despite all of the high pressure to execute the program’s work, also find time for encouraging strategic thinking. Foster alertness for opportunity; and know that this opportunity will be hidden in weak signals someplace in the periphery of the organization. Be prepared to respond when that opportunity does arrive.

Strategy Involves “Replacing Old Stories with New Stories”

In this article, I explained strategy is a conversation between stakeholders. More specifically, I wrote that a micro definition of strategy is that it is a set of actions based on a set of choices. Strategy – and by extension strategic initiatives – often involves controversial judgments and actions stemming from the simple reason that there are many stakeholders, and each stakeholder holds a unique perspective of the situation. Consider that people have different views of history that influence their current mental model. Part of the job of leadership is to foster some common thinking and values on the past as a precursor to agreeing on a strategy.

Finally, consider we can expand the micro definition of “strategy as conversation” to this: strategy is a narrative of an organization with an emphasis on prospective stories. In a more practical sense, this means that the job of leaders is to replace old stories with new stories.

Do you agree that a current strategic initiative could be seen as an episode of an organization’s history, with a turning point?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
This entry was posted in How to Improve Your Story Telling Chops, Transforming the Organization, Useful Practices & Management Tools and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Strategic Leadership is “Replacing Old Stories with New Stories”

  1. Pingback: Let Them Eat P.I.E.! | The Intuitive Group, Inc. on Personal Growth & Leadership

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