The Story – Part I

When I first read about McKinsey‘s watershed 7S Framework, I felt that it is missing something crucial. The framework lists Structure, Strategy, Systems, Skills, Style, Staff and Shared Values as the 7 S’s behind the organizational effectiveness of a business. But what brings them together is that missing 8th “S” – the Story!

Stories come in different shapes and colors. Take an example of the Story we have heard so many times about one of the most iconic businesses of our times – Apple! Apple’s story narrative points us to its “Founder’s Vision”.  Think for a moment … how else can we distinguish Apple from other mobile device companies without mentioning Steve Job’s vision? Another successful Global business, IKEA, also uses a similar “Founder’s Vision” story. Read the story narrated on their website:

The IKEA story begins in 1926 when founder Ingvar Kamprad is born in Småland in southern Sweden. He is raised on ‘Elmtaryd’, a farm near the small village of Agunnaryd. Even as a young boy Ingvar knows he wants to develop a business …

There are many other kinds of stories that mythify the very existence of an organization. Amazon uses “customer-paradise” story, Walmart too narrates similar “customer-paradise” story: “What started small, with a single discount store and the simple idea of selling more for less, has grown over the last 50 years into the largest retailer in the world”. And then, there are “innovation” stories. Tesla states “Tesla was founded in 2003 by a group of engineers who wanted to prove that people didn’t need to compromise to drive electric – that electric vehicles can be better, quicker and more fun to drive than gasoline cars”.

Story & Shared Values

McKinsey puts “Shared Values” at the core of an organization. Shared Values represent corporate culture and work ethics. It is one of the 4 “soft” elements of the 7-S model (Skills, Style, Staff being the other three). An article describes it as follows:

Shared values are the pinnacle of the [7-S] model and therefore in any organisation. They form the underpinning culture, strategy, effectiveness and performance, linking to every other element in this framework. They link all that is of the organisation: how people behave, the structure, its systems and so on.

Indeed, Shared Values should form core of any organization. History has many instances when value-driven rebel armies have won battles against better equipped salaried armies of the monarchies. However, in spite of all the virtues of Shared Values, in my career I have seen more “salaried” organizations than “value-driven” ones. One of the major obstacles in instituting a value-driven organization is defining core values that the entire organization will relate to. It is just not enough for a bunch of C-level executives to drum up a list of values and slap them on the organization. Employees have their own perceptive filters. Dry and emotionless list of Shared Values is like a desirable yet bitter medicine that is hard to swallow for most of the employees.

Lending Emotions to the Values

That is where Story becomes important! Story provides that colorful and flavorful emotional cover to the otherwise dry and tasteless list of corporate values. It lends theses values a meaning. Human mind is shaped to learn through stories from childhood. In every sphere of human existence, we narrate and hear many Stories; be it politics, religion, or family.  Weaving Values in interesting stories makes their ingestion easy. Many a times, Stories give Values a human face making it easy for the employees to relate their own lives to them.

Values become relevant to employees through – the missing 8th element of the Organizational Effectiveness Model – the Story!

My next blog “Story -2” will tell you more about the storytelling and the role of the Believers. Stay tuned …