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Executing Strategy Like a Snowboarder

What do stories, analogy, metaphors and snowboarding have in common? How about being a powerful way to think about strategy execution. Let me explain more through my own story of winter adventure.

In the recent HBR article, Your Strategy Needs a Story, the authors explain how your business strategy needs to be communicated in order to put it into action. Stories are an important and underutilized means to turn facts and information into a direction and understanding to move forward.

Metaphors (imagery used to evoke an emotion or feeling) and analogies (comparative imagery to lead to a logical conclusion) are both powerful tools and methods to communicate as part of storytelling. According to Stanford University, analogy can be explained this way:

Recently I had a "me" day which means I spent a day thinking, reflecting and recharging while doing an activity I really enjoy. Snowboarding is my winter activity of choice so I spent time with my nephew on Cypress Mountain, within Metro Vancouver. While the conditions were wonderful with some recent fresh snow, the views of the city were beyond inspiring. Creating reflection and thinking time is no longer a nice to have, it's essential to developing leadership as a leader in a world of increasing information driving fast thinking.

This was highlighted further with the short article, In a Distracted World Solitude Is a Competitive Advantage where in summary, when we are constantly distracted, our performance decreases. My time on the mountain in this fresh white snow, breathing fresh air as the rays of sun radiate off the snow is precisely where I can block out the distractions and dial up my focus for business growth. It might be something different for you and that's ideal.

Anyone who snowboards or skis knows how peaceful is can be on the slopes of nature, in the fresh cool air, with sunlight breaking through light overcast clouds to highlight a patch of tall, snow-covered trees. As I arrived at the top of the second lift, the highest point of this mountain, about 4700ft with this magnificent oversight of the runs, I was selectively thinking about which route to take yet not fully knowing the conditions on any route I was about to encounter. Which route each day are you selecting for managing your business?

Just like a strategic plan, the mountain has a route map for the various runs yet like any plan adjusting in real time is essential. Once I excited the chair lift there's a commitment to one of several routes down the mountain. These are a set of common paths just like most business strategies encompass specific approaches (grow market share, increase profitability, enhance operational efficiency, etc.). Just like these groomed runs change each day to some extent, business conditions are always shifting. For a snowboarder, these changes impact speed, congestion with others, and where obstacles (ie. moguls) may appear.

As a snowboarder there is only one way to go forward and that is down the mountain which is similar in business execution moving forward in time, not backwards. Trees on the runs are the fixed obstacles which a snowboarder want to avoid yet are always there. What are the fixed obstacles in your business planning? Also on the runs are other people, moving around you in sometimes unpredictable ways, like cutting you off at times, so you need to adjust in the moment. What daily adjustments in your business operations are being made?

And finally, as I complete this analogy, I think of the chair lifts like regulations and maybe taxes in business. Everyone has to use the chair lift to get back up the mountain yet it operates on its own speed with it's own rules, an example being maximum 4 people at a time. In essence it slows everyone down and becomes an equalizer regardless of your day plans coming to the mountain.

A strategic plan that does not tell a story is more difficult to communicate to others who are often the ones most critical to executing the tasks, actions, and priorities to fulfill the goals. Try asking others the story of your strategic plan and if they can describe the key elements, you're more likely to be in the 20-30% of plans executed successfully.

What were you doing on Tuesday November 29, 2022? If you don't recall, it may be because you have no story for this particular day. We often remember birthdays, events, and important times through the stories we create.

I increasingly use metaphor and analogy to create stories that resonate and enhance my success along with helping other leaders leverage this in multiple ways. What story can you create that will vividly enable others to clearly see the path to success you want to share?

Time for you to rethink your approach for improved success?

Jerome Dickey, MA, PCC, CPHR, Q.Med


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