Monday, 13 November 2017

How "framing" a crisis effectively can show the path to change

A critical function of leadership is successfully moving organizations toward change, especially in times of crisis and volatility. But what are the key components of that narrative? How do leaders "frame" what's at stake effectively? How do they explain what is to be gained from the change and even more importantly, explain how to get there?

Nancy F. Koehn, a historian, Harvard Business School leadership coach and author presents some practical and useful approaches in her new book "Forged in Crisis - the Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times" (John Murray UK 2017.) Professor Koehn tells the story of five historical figures facing terrible crises and how they were able to surmount them. 

One of the most powerful examples of effectively framing what's at stake and showing the path toward change is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; 272 words spoken in less than three minutes on the site of one of the Civil War's deadliest battlefields. The full text is here:

For today's leaders facing volatility and crisis, Koehn identifies five elements from Lincoln's famous speech they can use to "frame" the stakes, increase understanding, inspire action and finally, show the path to change:

1. Connect the current change efforts to the history and future of the enterprise

2. Locate those efforts in the arc of ongoing events

3. Explain each stakeholder's role in the process

4. Identify the specific trade-offs of making the change

5. Understand the costs in relation to the ultimate goal

"Every modern leader navigating through a crisis can learn from the Gettysburg Address. We are unlikely to approach the eloquence and power of Lincoln's language. But we can take from his leadership the critical importance of framing the stakes of a particular moment." - Nancy F. Koehn, Harvard Business School

Monday, 6 November 2017

How powerful stories effect political and social change

Why do some civic organizations succeed in their political and social goals and others don't?

Consider that organizations with a powerful narrative (such the National Rifle Association) achieve their political goals more readily than those that don't. 

There are some excellent insights about this in Professor Hahrie Han's book, How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press) 

It's obvious that narrative has the power to engage and inspire people to action, but for activists, storytelling goes far beyond that. Narrative is decisive in helping civic organizations find their path to power. 

Han points out that the narratives ("interpretive frames") organizations tell themselves have a decisive role to play in the organization's structure and strategy: 

“Framing is central to how leaders strategize because it identifies both challenging groups and adversaries and suggests potential allies. Framing specifies the unjust conditions that must be changed and the appropriate strategies and tactics to achieve the desired ends.” 

Example: after weeks of organizing an event and pulling it off successfully, the narrative of how that was done and what was achieved shows "how we do things" and the way forward. Stories about past victories and defeats show "how we won (or lost.)"

Narrative gives meaning to challenges, constraints, opportunities and change.

Stories also help organizations identify how to allocate scarce time and resources. "100's of people came to our event" vs. "we wrote a killer analysis" are very different paths to power and require very different resources.

Narrative helps us understand "which kind of organization are we?"

And: stories encourage sustainability. Individual experiences ("narratives") contribute to the collective identity of the organization, which is passed on from person to person.