Using Storytelling to engage your Organisation with Enterprise Architecture

Using Storytelling to engage your Organisation with Enterprise Architecture

Even when an organisation sees the need to improve control of its business processes, systems, data and technology assets, making a convincing business case for investing in EA is often a very tough sell. Just as with infrastructure investments, the upfront costs of EA are highly visible from the start, while the benefits are difficult to pin down, and they tend to accrue over time.

A Logical Argument doesn’t always Work

A big problem is that the people tasked with making the business case for EA are usually IT specialists, who methodically construct logical arguments to convince top business executives of the need for action. Unfortunately, these executives will be guided by their senior financial advisors, who are likely to see this as a speculative investment. When the cost of setting up and equipping an EA function or implementing the strategic roadmaps the EA team are advocating, are set against the cost of upgrading the firm’s accounting systems, guess which gets the higher priority!

How Storytelling can Help sell EA

The truth is that successfully selling the benefits of EA to senior business executives requires more than a set of logical arguments; they need to be emotionally convinced of the need. And this is where storytelling comes into play. The power of stories is that they convey meaning, they bring information to life. But to ensure their senior audience is receptive, they must be clearly relevant to the business and supportive of the logical case.

Supporting the business case with a story, based on recent shared experience that plays to the executives’ fear or greed, would be ideal.

M&A Story

An example from our experience is that of a UK chemical company that merged with a French firm in the same line of business. The business justification for the merger was strong: complementary product lines, strengths in different markets, and potentially huge savings from shared services and combined R&D. Sadly, insufficient attention was given to the incompatibilities of the two companies’ business processes and information systems, and this led to serious business disruption post-merger. A further consequence was that many of the expected synergistic benefits failed to be realised. Mapping the enterprise architectures of both companies ahead of the merger would have been ideal, although this is often not possible beyond a high-level view. But an early EA analysis would have immediately revealed the scale of the problem. With early sight of the problems, remedial actions to head off business disruption could have been built into the transition plan. Hindsight allowed the senior executives to recognise the need to avoid a similar painful experience in any future M&A initiatives, and even the CFO appreciated the importance of risk mitigation.

As the above example illustrates, a single powerful story can be sufficient to close the argument for investing in EA.  In the above case it was an experience they had lived through that could be referenced when selling the EA story.  Note: such cases do, however, require delicate handling, as some members of the audience may not welcome someone reminding them of their involvement in a poorly managed venture.

Other Example Stories

The storyteller will be on much safer ground when telling a story based on the experience of a different organisation facing similar challenges to his or her own organisation. This is a bit like making the case for purchasing fire insurance when a neighbouring business has just burnt down.

There are many stories in the public domain that can be used to support EA-related issues. For example, problem avoidance, as in the Daimler/Chrysler story, where the company had multiple problems, but an early mapping of the supply chains and asking how they would be merged would have highlighted a fundamental issue (they were never going to merge). Another example is delivering efficiencies: referencing the compelling story of how Toyota gain efficiencies with their ‘pillars’.

Storytelling Guidelines

So what are the key guidelines for weaving a compelling story into an EA initiative?

  1. Make sure the story is authentic: clearly relevant to the initiative and likely to be accepted as conveying messages important to the business
  2. Keep it simple and don’t be afraid to ask the audience whether the story resonates with them. (The sceptics are likely to be challenged by others who get the message)
  3. Respect the feelings of the audience when the story touches on potentially sensitive issues
  4. Tailor the story to the audience: telling the story to your boss or their peers, will be different to selling it to a Town Hall audience
  5. Make the story action-oriented. ‘This is the story, this is what it means and this is how we are going to achieve it’. (Set quarterly targets for assessing progress and link to metrics)
  6. Keep coming back to your story, repetition1 is key to keeping it in people’s minds

Useful links:

Storytelling that Drives Bold Change – Frances Frei, Anne Moriss, HBR, December 2023

Storytelling Can Make or Break Your Leadership – Jeff Gothelf , HBR, October 2020

The Power Of Storytelling For Your Business: Unleashing Your Inner Storyteller  – Candice Georgiadis, Forbes, June 2023

Use Gartner’s Storytelling Framework to Attract Attention From Line-of-Business Buyers – Garrett Astler, Manav Jain, Molly Beams 25 May 2023

How to Sell EA in you Organisation

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