No Story, No Strategy

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No Story, No Strategy | Shawn Callahan and Simon Severino | STRATEGY SPRINTS 169

Speaker 1 (00:00):


Simon (00:10):

Welcome to the strategy sprints podcast. I'm your host [inaudible]. And my guest today started his career in technology with companies like Oracle and IBM, but realize at the end of the day, it was the human factor that determines the success of any enterprise. In 2004, he founded anecdote affirm that helps leaders and sellers find Intel effective oral business stories. He works with global 1000 companies, such as shell, Microsoft, Tesco, Allianz, and Baya all around the world. And it towed licenses, its business storytelling programs to companies that are delivered in 12 languages in over 22 countries will come. Everybody's shown Callahan.

Shawn (00:52):

Yeah, it was great to be here. It's good to save Timon.

Simon (00:56):

Yeah. Welcome. And, uh, tell us what are you currently creating?

Shawn (01:03):

Well, I think it's sort of keeping me busy at the moment. I'm helping a larger sort of a global pharmaceutical business with their strategy story and, and a strategy story for us is just simply a story that explains why the strategic choices were made right. And an actual story structures, super simple. Uh, but that's not where the difficulty arises. Their difficulty rises as you're getting, getting your executives on the same page. You must, you must have heard that one before. Hey Simon.

Simon (01:38):

Oh, that's funny. Yeah. When you start a story with many people, so tell us, how do you align them without losing your nerves and time,

Shawn (01:50):

The way I do it, like our strategy story structure is simply in the past, it was like this and then something happened. And so that's why you're doing these things. So the future can be like that. And I actually like to get them into little, little groups and it's almost like jeweling stories. They have to see who, who can come up with the best and most satisfying version and they love it. It's really good. It doesn't require any post-it notes. It doesn't require any, you know, fancy flip charts or anything like that. And I think they're kind of sick of all those overly facilitated sessions. So, uh, the executives get into it pretty robustly, I would say. Uh, and, and the nice thing is, is that as they're describing, you know, their story, um, you could say the other groups sort of going, Oh, okay. I didn't realize that we did it for that reason. And, you know, and, and it turns into a conversation. Right. And that's the key thing. Yeah.

Simon (02:52):

I'm picturing them being outside and having a campfire in the middle of it. Cause right now you shouldn't sit to tell stories around the fire. Have you tried that?

Shawn (03:05):

I have, I'm not a real big fan of it. I, I, I try to keep away from anything that's too cliche and, and Hollywood. Like I, more, my stories are the sort of stories that people actually tell in organizations and they're kind of boring, right? They're not as fancy as something you would craft for a, uh, you know, a, the latest screenplays in Hollywood. So yeah, I, I bet of course, I've been doing them on zoom lately. That's, that's the, uh, the latest, uh, technology for this sort of thing, or, you know, whatever videos sort of conferencing technology want to use, but it works just as well on zoom as it does face to face, actually, which I was a bit surprised about.

Simon (03:48):

Beautiful. And what have you wrote as a CEO tip what's can you share that others can learn practice

Shawn (03:56):

Look because I get to see lots and lots of strategies. Uh, the theme that I see over and over again is people coming up with strategies that don't have real choices. Like, so for example, they will, uh, say, okay, we're going to do four things. We're going to focus on our people. We're going to, uh, provide digital transformation, you know, sort of typical for things that you would see in an organization. Uh, but the problem with it is that I, I sort of say to them, you've got to compare what your suggesting your bold move needs to have a real opposite. I call, I call this the Christines of maneuver, uh, could stand them named after George Costanza from Seinfeld. And there was an episode in Seinfeld where George decides to do everything, uh, the opposite that he would normally do it. And it cost his life turns out really well in when he does the opposite.

Shawn (04:55):

But what I mean by the opposite is say, for example, if they say one of their choices is, Oh, we're going to focus on our people. I say to them, say you were really considering a choice of not focusing on your people. So that was a choice. You going, we're going to focus on people, not all we're not going to. And they go, of course not. We wouldn't think that as well. That's not a choice. You're not making a choice there. And the best stories are ones where they make real choices and the best strategies are the ones that they make real choices. So that would, that would be my tip for CEOs, make real choices, use the custodians of maneuver and you will get a strategy. And by the way, this is not major saying that I learnt this from, uh, the famous, uh, strategy, uh, consultants slash academic Richard Ramos. I don't know if you've come across Richard Rommel's work, but he wrote a beautiful

Simon (05:47):

Book strategy, bad

Shawn (05:49):

Strategy. Yeah. We know it well, right. So sorry.

Simon (05:55):

Science need to be equally positive, like price and quality. Not just, you cannot just say we are going to serve our community, obviously, but what's the opposite. So one of us, it could be, we go for quality over price. Like whenever we deliver quality or price, we will deliver quality and the price would go up. So, um, quality over price. Would that be,

Shawn (06:22):

Yeah, that's right. That's that would be a contrast. Another one would be, you know, we're going to outsource to Asia or we're going to keep that capability in house. Right. Um, so you're making real choices and it sort of makes your strategy a lot more, um, I guess bold, right? And this is what, uh, executives are looking for that, especially CEOs, they want bold moves. You don't make these big changes that you need to make with, you know, tempered, uh, uh, undifferentiated moves, right? So you have to,

Simon (06:59):

For people who want to explore strategy and Richard Rumbold good strategy, bad strategy, really good book. It's not as simple as it sounds from the title. It's a good book and you give the award to, you can pick

Shawn (07:25):

The, the one that I would pick, you know, in terms of making some amazing moves at the moment, he's been doing it for a long time, actually. And he's a Chinese businessmen, his name Zang reman, and he's the CEO of a company called higher and higher is a large white goods appliance company, but he's doing some amazing things on organizational structure. He has taken 80,000 people and broken them down into 15 person units. And each 15 person unit has got the sort of, it has to interact with a whole bunch of other 15 person units to create an ecosystem in order to create a product. And as a result of that, they only have three layers of hierarchy in their business for 80,000 people. Uh, he, he wanted to structure a business to manage a world that was emphasized highly influenced by, you know, the internet by structuring his business like the internet. And I think this is wild and it's bringing in all sorts of, uh, real humans, human centered approaches where, you know, people are acting like entrepreneurs they're, um, you know, sort of looking after their people at that sort of real core level. I think he's doing some amazing work. I learned about it, uh, in, um, Gary Hamels, new book called human ocracy. I don't know if you've come across human ocracy, but it's worth a read and, and hire is of the key case studies he uses in that book.

Simon (08:58):

Beautiful. I want to know the three books that shaped you most that were most influential, but first one word from the sponsor.

Speaker 1 (09:09):

Hey, if you love what you are hearing, you will love our free master classes. Go grab them at strategy,

Shawn (09:22):

It was a tough one, right. You know, you can sort of see from my bookshelves, I have a lot of books. Um, and the three that I was thinking of that have had a big impact on me. Um, and I've already mentioned one of them, right. And that is good strategy, bad strategy. Richard Ronald's book. When I read that, when it came out back in 2011, I think, um, I, I, the connection to story was really obvious for me. He, more or less said, if you don't have a story, if you don't have a story, you don't have a strategy. And, and as soon as I sort of saw that he really understood that connection. I knew this was an important book for the work that we do in strategy stories. Another book that I've known for a long time, actually, I think it was published in the 1970s is called a pattern language by Christopher Alexander.

Shawn (10:14):

And this is where the concept of object oriented computing came from, uh, or was inspired by, and this idea of developing patterns. And he was an architect and he was looking at, um, like what were the patterns in buildings that we love and, you know, and how do we incorporate that, incorporate those into buildings. Like, for example, we love a trellis walk, right? For some reason, humans just like walking through a Trello, especially with us, you know, with the vines growing over. It, there's just something that we love about that. And he goes through any names, I don't know, hundreds of different, uh, architectural patterns that just work for humans. And so there's lots of analogies between that and what you can do with, we use story patterns, for example, in our work. So we work with different story patterns and the last one is sort of a productivity. One. I, I have been for a long time, a bit of a, um, uh, I don't, which is say a follower. And, and I apply the ideas of getting things done. Uh, David Allen's a famous book. Um, now I went and saw, I met David Allen for the first time, uh, in Amsterdam last year. Uh, yeah, it was last

Simon (11:29):


Shawn (11:32):

Yes. Yeah. And, and, um, and you know how, you know, you put someone up on a pedestal and you're sort of all excited about it, but it was, it was a very, uh, awkward, uh, sort of interaction I had with him. And I thought, Oh, you should never meet your heroes. I think that's, that's the conclusion I walked away from, uh, in that interaction. They're my three books,

Simon (11:55):

I guess, towards three times on the show. And we spent a day with him in Amsterdam in his apartment because I wanted to see how he organizes his life and his computer and his tasks. We filmed with him. What's his what's on his calendar and his desk, et cetera. Um, it was amazing.

Shawn (12:15):

Oh, I bet it would, I would have loved to have done that. So, yeah, well done.

Simon (12:20):

So thank you for the three books and now 10, tell us a little bit more about what you see out there. So firms and how they convey their story. What should they really consider during these times?

Shawn (12:37):

Well, I mean, I think a lot of organizations are realizing that, um, you know, you gotta be clear and you've gotta be concise, but that's just clear and concise as not good enough, right. People have to feel it. People have to feel some emotion attached to it. Uh, if you're taking people in a new direction, which is unknown, you know, they really have to get some sense of that. We did a, uh, a strategy story for big insurance company. And, uh, it was about 12 months into the project. So they got into the implementation and roll this strategy out throughout their organization. And, uh, I rang the head of comms and, uh, their colleagues and on the teleconference. And these are very serious people, you know, insurance company, people don't don't laugh too much. But when I had on the phone, I got on the phone, they're all giggling.

Shawn (13:30):

And I thought, why are they giggling? You know, why are they laughing? And it turned out, they just got their employee engagement, survey results back. And they had increased the engagement in that company by a percentage that they'd never seen before. Right. And they put it down to the fact that they, for the first time they started to get their whole organization aligned, um, because of the strategy story. Um, so I guess that's, that's the sort of the, that's what I get excited when you see those sort of things you think, okay. You know, real, real change is actually happening in these organizations. Uh, so anyway, that's, that's sort of the, the move we're saying for more and more companies, that's still a tiny percentage that do it. Right.

Simon (14:13):

And thinking of, of the people who are listening right now who run small and medium businesses. So you're not talking the vision, their long-term vision, you're not talking the mission, you are talking something specific. How, how, how should they approach it? What's what's usually missing. How should they do it?

Shawn (14:37):

Yeah. Well, I think the, the, the key things that's missing is that, you know, the, the, you know, the, the executives, the people who run the run, the company, um, have they come up with their new direction, they choices that they're making their strategic choices, but what, as soon as they start to communicate them, the first question that people have in their mind is why, why are we doing that? Right? And if you don't give them a good answer, and of course, Simon Sinek has made a whole career out of this. If you don't answer the why question, you have people going off in all different directions. So for people running those smaller businesses, they need to just use a simple story structure. And if you go to my book, uh, putting stories to work, you'll sort of see it written there. Uh, it just simply goes, what would we like in the past, right.

Shawn (15:31):

Then what was the thing that changed? Or might've been two or three things had changed, you know, competitive game in prices, fell regulator, um, changed the landscape. Uh, you know, it could be a myriad of things, right? New technologies came in then for those reasons, that's why we're doing these strategic choices. And when people hear that they should be just nodding their heads going, Oh, I say, yeah, of course, that's why we're doing it. And then of course, you've got to give them a picture of the future. Like what's going to happen when this all works well. And I have two little strategies there, I'd say either use examples that are already happening. So usually in an organization, the strategies or the, the future is already there, right. It's already happening. So you tell those little stories and then you finish it by saying, God Magine, if we could do that everywhere.

Shawn (16:22):

Right. Or secondly, if you don't have any of those examples, you start off by simply saying, so imagine this, and then you give a scenario of what it's going to be like in the future, those two little stretch strategies, great for populating future stories. Um, and then you just get people to tell it off the top of their head in their own words, uh, not using scripts, not using PowerPoint decks or anything like that. Um, and you'll be amazed at the, uh, the impact it has on your people. They want to hear what the leaders have got to say. So

Simon (16:57):

Beautiful. Do you have some examples of people who who've got it right. And they've got the story in a way that people really can, can connect with.

Shawn (17:08):

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Um, we've done, uh, pharmaceutical companies seem to be very interested in this. We've done a number of different pharmaceutical companies. And I remember, um, uh, working with, uh, a head, it wasn't actually the head of the whole pharmaceutical company, but it was an area called the medical area, which are the guys who do all of the essentially, uh, approval of the, uh, of the medicines as they go through. So they're very busy at the moment with vaccines, right. That would be keeping them very busy. Um, but the, uh, in this case, a German lady, very straight down the line, um, no nonsense kind of person. Um, she got her team and I actually went to Sri Lanka, uh, to work with her team. And, uh, she was, she was head of all of Asia Pacific and it was amazing. She was able to that group, that executive group of about eight people were able to tell the story of what, how they grew that business from a, a handful of people, to many thousands of people, uh, over like a six year period.

Shawn (18:16):

And, uh, and then those strategic choices. And it would really just start to align that, you know, that larger group into not only made them proud of what they'd done and, you know, the achievement they made, but also set them in a clear direction as to what they were going to do next. I mean, she was so excited by that. We ended up, she got promoted to being head of all of Europe and North Africa, and we did the same thing again over there, but this time in Vienna and, um, and so, you know, it was, it was a repeatable pattern for her to, to, to make this work.

Simon (18:53):

Yeah. Beautiful. What did you recently change your mind about?

Shawn (19:00):

Yeah, I was actually scratching my head about this and, um, but it occurred to me, one of the things I have changed my mind about. And so I sort of flip-flopped if you like, so, um, for a long time, I've, I've done a lot of, uh, work in the area of, uh, diversity and inclusion, right. And it's usually around collecting stories and organizations to help them understand their own diversity and inclusion behaviors. Uh, and, uh, as I was working with different companies, there was a real, um, I guess I agreement that was made around, especially from a lot of senior executives, that inclusion was more important than diversity, right. That, and one, one executive put it by saying, um, that, uh, diversity is when you count the people and inclusion is when people feel counted. And I thought, and I thought, Oh, okay, well then that could make a lot of saints, but, but I have swung back the other way. Now I'm now a true believer if you like, of the importance of diversity, because it's those multiple perspectives that give you that diversity of thought, right. And, and, and, you know, those different perspectives that really give the opportunity for innovation. And, and now seeing plenty of stories where diversity has made a phenomenal difference to organizations, um, and, and, and any relatively small to big organization can, uh, can do it right. You just have to be mindful of it.

Simon (20:36):

This is something that many are trying to do right now, because everybody knows here it's the right thing to do. And then someone come up, um, what, what are you seeing out there that can help overcome these obstacles?

Shawn (20:51):

Well, yeah, when you're working with just about any organization, there's a very hard headed numbers, focus in organization, and they want to know what's the real value of diversity, right? And so you have to tell stories where diversity is made a difference. So for example, we had one example where we were working with a big professional services firm, and, uh, they were the incumbent for this particular piece of work. Multi-million dollar piece of work. And the head of the client came to the head partner and said, look, we like your work and everything, but for this new pitch you're doing, I have to say, there's not much there. That's innovative, right? We're a little bit disappointed if you want to win this, you're going to have to step it up. And he looked at his team and it was really all the same people. It was like 30 year old, white blokes, essentially.

Shawn (21:47):

Um, and he thought, Oh my God, what am I doing? And because he is a global company. So he ended up pulling people from all over the globe for a new pitch team. And they absolutely won the work, made a big difference. The customers loved it. And by telling that story in that organization, more senior partners started to do that. My staff to draw on the diversity that accurately already had in the business. Right. And then this, this started a snowball of, of change that occurred in their, their, their firm. So I think we got to find, you got to find those examples.

Simon (22:21):

Absolutely. So sometimes it's just checking our patterns of staffing and putting projects together, and we have maybe much more diversity than, than we use. Then we actually leverage around if we just can put them to work.

Shawn (22:36):

Yeah. Well, that's so true. Absolutely.

Simon (22:39):

We're not being in the way of the word.

Shawn (22:44):

Yeah. That's true.

Simon (22:46):

Sean, where can people find you? Where can they read about you?

Shawn (22:50):

Well, I website's the best place to find us. That's just Um, he can also check out my book, putting stories to work. So, uh, that's pretty much many of the things that, uh, you know, the, we do as is in that book, but that said, that book is primarily about storytelling, right? But I'm not on a, I'm on a campaign at the moment to teach people that story work is more than just storytelling. Uh, we talk about story listening and story triggering and the myriad of places in which stories can be used in an organization after we've written a paper just called corporate storytelling. And it lists, I think, 14 different areas in which a business can apply story based techniques. I think if you just Googled a corporate storytelling and anecdote, you would find that paper, um, and, uh, have a look. Cause I think it'll just get people thinking, you know, whereas it's around branding or leadership development or it's around, um, you know, getting insight or innovation. I mean, there's so many different places where story can play out. And, and, and I think we're just touching, which is, it's the tip of the iceberg at the moment in terms of how we're using story in business.

Simon (24:08):

Absolutely. Who should be my next guest?

Shawn (24:12):

Well, I was, I actually thought you should go for Richard Roemer. I mean, if I know he's an emeritus professor at the moment at yet, uh, in Los Angeles, UCLA, I think. Um, so, you know, maybe he's got some spare time on his hand. He would be a great person to have, uh, he's at, by the way, if he's book any, um, indication of it, he seems like he's a really good storyteller. So, uh, I get him on, on the, on the show.

Simon (24:38):

Thank you so much, Sean, for being here and sharing your knowledge and your journey with our community and please come back soon.

Shawn (24:46):

Oh, I'd love to anytime it's been, uh, it's been a pleasure,

Speaker 4 (24:50):

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