Less Numbers, More Story

Harry is one of our unit managers. His normally calm, diplomatic voice takes on a sudden energy as he leans across the table and says, “People seem to think that any mission will do. That’s just not true.”

Harry has a point. Missions have to resonate with the team or they will not motivate them. I have worked for a passionate leader and I really felt the difference. When he announced his vision for the company, he made sure we all knew where we could make a difference. We worked together and supported each other. There was a well defined goal that was just beyond our reach.

Those are all good things, but, as I look back on that experience now, I see it differently. It was not the goal that motivated us, but the story of The Little Company That Could. We saw ourselves as a small Canadian company competing for recognition with our much larger colleagues south of the border. It was the classic David and Goliath story, and we were determined to create a happy ending.

My current company’s story is very much in my mind as I put together the book that will become the blueprint for our company’s 2009 year. People don’t traditionally look to budgets for inspiration, but I am out to change all that. Here’s what I’m planning:

  • Less Numbers, More Story – The budget will now include a narrative telling the reader what we are aiming to achieve. The detailed tables broken down by Cost Centre, Account and month that I need to import the budget into the accounting system will be sent to the Appendix. People don’t read them anyway.
  • Align with the Organization’s Priorities – The accounting system breaks the organization down into units, but the Board sees the operations in terms of their priorities. The budget book will take all of the individual managers’ goals and show how they fit into the Board’s priorities.
  • Support the Priorities with Graphics – I will use my Microsoft reporting tools to present the plans graphically, just like I promised. The reader will see that we are putting our money where our mouth is.
  • Get More People Involved – Some people view budgeting as a black box: a mysterious process with results that are beyond their control. The budget book will have a section describing the process and talking about how budget adjustments were made. We will ask for more input from the people most affected by the budget and actively seek their buy-in.
  • Use the Technology – Use the Financial Reporting Software rather than Excel for the Budget reports so that changes to the Budget ripple through all the reports, instead of relying on more fragile spreadsheet links. Use Navision (Microsoft Dynamics NAV) to track the original budget separately from subsequent transfers and updates, so that I can show both on financial reports.

There was an excellent demonstration of the power of a story in Drew McLellan’s Marketing Minute today. It certainly inspired me.

The public may not be on the edge of their seats when this book is released, but I’m hoping that Harry will be.

1 Comment on “Less Numbers, More Story

  1. Bill,

    Less numbers, more story. Amen to that! People are moved by emotions, not facts.

    We want to be a part of something that matters. And increasing profit revenues by 2.35% annually is not heady stuff.

    But, as you said — being the little guy who somehow overcomes the big guy — that’s a challenge we can rise to.

    From an employee’s perspective — touch our hearts and we’ll follow you (leader) anywhere.

    Story trumps numbers every time.


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