Posted on Aug 30, 2021
For those of us currently with young kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or for those who at one point or another have had the opportunity to teach young children, we can remember when, at as young as three years old, a child could recite most of the words in a story book fairly accurately, by looking at the pictures and remembering the milestone story points.

When most kids started school, they followed a similar pattern – looking at the pictures and reading short stories to understand words and their meaning.

There’s a good reason why reading is taught this way, rather than as a ‘list’ of words to memorize. People are geared for meaning – we only understand information and learn new skills in the context of understanding what we can do with them.

So, when we teach kids to read, we don’t start with informative text. We start with stories. The goal isn’t as much about letter recognition and sound formation, as it is about comprehension. Those squiggly lines are only useful in the context of their role to help us understand the world around us.

Pioneering cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, said a human being is an organism ‘which cannot live in a world it is unable to understand.’ He called humans ‘symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking’ animals – something that we may all know intuitively.

Sometimes when it comes to making big change in our organizations and communities, (think Rotary and Rotary Clubs) this gets lost. We get so excited about our vision, so convinced in the quality of our thinking, or so caught up in what we need to do as leaders… that we forget to translate our big ideas into something meaningful.

The hardest part of strategy is the execution. Coming up with great ideas and priorities is wonderful.

It’s fun to work together and come up with ideas that other people need to go ahead and implement. The challenge, though, is that, somewhere between 60 and 90% of strategies are not executed, or do not deliver the intended outcomes.

Here’s a couple of other interesting statistics to add to that picture:
  • More than 70% of employees are not actively engaged in their organisation.
Is it conceivable then, that more than 70% of club members may not be actively engaged in their Rotary Club?
  • 53% of executives do not believe their company’s strategy will lead to success. it conceivable that 53% of our Club leaders, may not believe that our Rotary strategies will lead to success?

If we were illustrating this story for our early readers, it wouldn’t be a pretty picture. Somewhere along the way, the bridge between the thinkers and doers has broken down.

So how do we make strategy meaningful in a club setting?
Have you ever heard the saying: “if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself?” This is a bit like that.

If we can’t make strategy clear and meaningful at club level, maybe it wasn’t very good in the first place, or was it the way we shared our stories about the overarching goals, that club members could not understand and, more importantly, relate to?

Strategy and change aren’t something we can just ‘do’. It’s a process of constant refinement. Perhaps the most valuable stage in that refinement is to bring all stakeholders, from all levels, to the table before a strategy/plan gets confirmed and goes ahead.

Bringing in the insights of the people who understand the story they are living, day to day, is so valuable. Even better, when people in our Rotary clubs, champion and implement Rotary strategy, and are engaged from the outset, the likelihood of successful execution more than likely skyrockets.

This process of co-creation enables the right blend of big picture thinking and real-life practicality. Asking questions like: "What does this mean for you and your club?"; "What challenges do you see in making this a reality?"; and, "What do you need from the  District, the Zone or RI to make this happen?” makes a big difference.

Done well, everyone benefits – more engaged club members with ownership and commitment, a more robust and actionable strategy and meaning for those at club level.

We all want stories with happy endings. So...let’s use the power of storytelling and co-creation to grow Rotary and turn our strategy into action.

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results – Winston Churchill.

Strategy is a fancy word for coming up with a long term plan and putting it into action – Ellie Pidot.