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What is the role of symbolic strategy maps in strategy communication & implementation?

Symbolic strategy maps

Quite often a client will want to present their strategy as a simpler picture than the full, detailed one page strategy map.

Sometimes this is for a simple introduction from which the additional detail will be later explained.  Other times it is for external consumption, where the external world should not, or need not, see the whole detail of their strategy.  An example of this is in our Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund case study.  We put in there a simplified version of the strategy map because t was sufficient to explain the strategy, yet did not ask too many questions or go into too much detail.

I call these simplified versions, symbolic strategy maps.

Variations on simplification

There are various ways to simplify the main strategy map.

The first is to concentrate on the strategic themes rather than the strategic objectives within themes.  This is very useful because it gets across the main messages of the strategy, and the tensions between those themes, and allows you to then introduce the detail, theme by theme.

Another way is to simplify the perspectives.  Often a team will choose to lose the learning and growth perspective, in the simplified diagram, merging it into the process perspective.  There are two reasons for this: 1) externally you are not telling your competitors where you want to play and the capabilities you will focus on.  2) There is often quite some detail in there and simply saying, “Developing our people” or “Being a learning organisation” is enough to start with.  The rallying calls that sit in front of the more detailed strategy.  Some also simplify the perspectives by losing one of the impact, regulatory or financial perspectives.  What you choose to omit (simplify) often depends on the audience.

Another way is to lose the wider detail compress the story into five or six key messages: say one for Financial, one for customers, two for what the organisation focuses on, and one for people.   Again this is used to get the big picture across, and from which you can start top expand the detail.

Whichever way you choose will depend on how you want to tell (and what you want to hide and reveal) about the story of your strategy.

The symbolic picture summarises your detailed work

Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said, “I did not have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one”.   It is the same with strategy maps.  The short, succinct version, the symbolic strategy map, is the culmination of a lot of thinking, that gets summarised to suit a particular audience and communication purpose.  It is like mission statement “ten thousand and six words problem”.  The detail has to be there.

So, never, ever, go straight to a symbolic picture.  Instead let that summarised picture emerge after the detailed discussions and when the overall picture is in the heads of the team.  Design your symbolic strategy map (or maps) to suit the particular audience and the particular messages you want to get across.

You can find more about strategy maps and their role in strategy design and implementation here

You can find more about communicating and socialising your strategy here.

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