It was Christmas Eve and things weren't well at the company headquarters of Scrooged Inc. Outside, it was a bleak winter’s eve, but the weather was not nearly as chilly as the atmosphere within the board room.
The company’s management team listened as their CEO, Ebenezer, talked through the end-of-year financial report. It had been years since the company had a clear strategy, and the profits were as dead as the company’s original CEO, Ted Wood.
Revenue was down. Operations were loss-making. Expenses were increasing. And Ebenezer was angry. None of the numerous attempts his employees had made to reverse the company’s fortunes had worked. Strategies hadn’t been developed or communicated properly. Results had got worse. As he closed the meeting, he glared around the room.
“There’s only one thing for it!” he barked. “You must all come in tomorrow, to try and resolve this crisis.”
“But sir,” his assistant Chris Adams-Cratchit protested. “Tomorrow is Christmas Day!”
But Ebenezer was not to be moved. “Bah, humbug!” he retorted. “Christmas is cancelled!” And as Chris Adams-Cratchit filed out of the cold, bleak room, all he could think of was he would now spend Christmas Day over spreadsheets rather than sprouts.
That night, Ebenezer sat at his desk hunched over his laptop. On the screen, his dashboard was filled with columns of red figures. As he scrolled, despairing of ever seeing a single black digit, the room was silent.
Fingers numb with the cold, he turned away to his coffee-maker to turn it on – and as he flicked his switch the colour in the room changed. The ringing tones of FaceTime sang from his speakers. Momentarily startled, he turned back – and turned even more pale than his customary pallor.
The name “Ted Wood” filled the screen. But Ted Wood had been dead some ten years. Fingers shaking, he clicked Accept...
“Whoever this is, I - “
“Ebenezerrrrrrr...” interrupted a voice sounding like Ted.
“Whoever this is, I - “
“Ebenezer. It’s me.” Now the voice was annoyed. “Ted. Your former CEO.”
“Dead? Yes. And I don’t have long… “
The call cut off. Ebenezer stood motionless, confused by what had just happened. Then suddenly the ringing tones of FaceTime began once again from the speakers.
“Hello?” Ebenezer said coldly.
“Sorry, disconnected. It’s so hard to find good video conference software, even in the afterlife. Now look here Ebenezer, this performance won’t do.” Ted sounded sad. “You’re going to be visited by three ghosts. They have a message for you about the business.”
“Can’t you just give it to me?” Ebenezer enquired, “That’d be a much more efficient process?”
“You always were difficult Ebenezer. You’ve been warned...”
The screen flicked off. Ebenezer stared at it for a moment. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but figured he’d fire Chris tomorrow just to be on the safe side.
As the coffee machine clicked off, he decided caffeine wasn’t needed and the best thing to do would be to go to bed...
Later that night a sudden gust of wind was rattling his window sash. Blurry-eyed, he peeled his face off his pillow. As he blearily rubbed his eyes to focus, he became aware of a source of light in the room. Turning slowly, he found himself facing.
“I see you’re trying to write a strategy!” The cheery voice, the big smile, the unlikely facial bone structure. Ebenezer shook his head. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be -
Hovering in front of him, holding a document, the happy assistant of MS Word shimmered by the bed smiling brightly. The Ghost of Strategy of Past had arrived.
Ebenezer looked at the document that materialised in front of him – dated 30 years prior, in the days where Scrooged Inc was but a simple start-up and Ebenezer one of the team. Their strategy was clear, it was understandable, and the thoughts well-articulated. It was successful.
“Simpler times!”, Ebenezer thought to himself, “Surely strategy cannot be so simple now – we’re bigger, we’re growing, we have multiple customers in multiple regions… if only things were simple now they’d succeed.”
He turned to ask Clippy, but Clippy, his task complete, was already fading away. Ebenezer reached out to stop him, but to no avail. The room fell dark again. Ebenezer quickly looked round, understandably disturbed that an animated word processor assistant from the 1990s had manifested in front of him, handed him a copy of his old business strategy, and then disappeared again.
It seemed somewhat unlikely. But then, so did Nokia becoming the least popular mobile phone and that happened. Shaking his head, he decided to get back to sleep.
An hour later, he was woken again, this time by a call of nature, Ebenezer being at that delicate time of life where an unbroken night’s sleep is an aspiration rather than a likelihood. As he manoeuvred himself out of bed, he became aware, with a sinking heart, that once again he wasn’t alone. This time, a large human like figure appear in front of him.
But this was no human. The body was composed entirely of paper documents, the legs were print outs of numerous strategy frameworks, and the head one was one large strategy pyramid. The figure moved from one side of the bed to the other, in the manner that reminded Ebenezer of a Powerpoint animation, and slowly raised its arms towards him.
One by one the bits of paper, slides, written notes, frameworks and graphs began to fly out of the ghostly body and round the room, until Ebenezer found himself trapped in a whirlwind of strategy documentation. SWOTs, PESTLEs, Five Forces and more flew from corner to corner of the bedroom.
“Stop, stop!”, screamed Ebenezer clutching his head, “I can’t think with all of these strategy documents – so many formats, so many out of date documents”.
At that moment the room fell into darkness and Ebenezer was once again alone. The Ghost of Strategy Present had departed, satisfied it had highlighted the risks of confusion with too many strategy documents and no consistency in approach. And that he had stopped Ebenezer going to the toilet. A double win.
Sleep now eluded Ebenezer. Perhaps it was the fact that literal manifestations of abstract concepts were visiting him at regular intervals. Perhaps it was the interesting business lessons they were imparting which were proving too stimulating for his overactive mind.
Whatever it was, by 5am Ebenezer had had enough and decided to head into the office. It would be helpful to get some work done before anyone else showed up.
Only, when he unlocked the door and switched on the light, he discovered that he wasn’t alone. A figure in a boiler suit could be seen at the other end of the room, facing away from him, attending to some task at a desk.
“Ahem. Excuse me.”
The figure did not react but continued with his ministrations.
“I said, EXCUS – oh right.” Realisation dawned. The third one. Sighing inwardly, Ebenezer slowly crossed the room. As he approached, he saw the figure had a large cardboard box, into which it was packing the contents from his desk. Family photos, little desk toys that seemingly only get sold at Christmas, and a variety of pens were being unceremoniously dumped into the box.
Ebenezer turned, a little wildly, staring around the increasingly empty office. Now he could see it more clearly, as though a mist had risen. Where once had laid rows upon rows of desks, now a vast open space echoed around him. Ebenezer shook his head. “No, no...” he muttered in rising panic.
He turned and saw Chris Adams-Cratchit standing there, mournfully holding his own box. “They - they changed the lock!” whimpered Chris, as he burst into tears. Helplessly, Ebenezer stood there, staring at him.
And suddenly he understood. He understood all too well. The lack of clarity, the complexity, the lack of communication, the failure to provide a proper plant-watering rota – all of this meant the future was bleak for the company.
Pushing past the still sobbing Chris, he ran back to the figure in a boiler suit.
“How do I stop this?” he demanded. “How? What do I do. Please, I’ll do anything - “
The figure did not respond, but silently passed through the door and was gone. Leaving Ebenezer alone in the cold, crisp dark that just precedes the dawn.
Suddenly Ebenezer awoke to find himself back in his bedroom, early on Christmas morning. For a moment he stared at the ceiling, collecting his thoughts. And in that moment, understanding flooded through him.
He jumped out of bed, and ran to the window. Leaning out, he called to a small child who was walking down the road. “Excuse me, young sir,” he called to him. “What day is this?”
The small child ignored him, but thankfully he had his iPhone to check the date, so all was well.
Ebenezer ran to his laptop and began calling each of his team. Christmas was back on - they were to enjoy the break - and be refreshed for a return in January to focus on the strategic planning. Everyone was delighted, although it was a bit of a double-edged sword for Chris as he hated sprouts.
Over Christmas dinner as Ebenezer began to prepare for his new year strategic planning, he registered himself an account with Lucidity and, together with his team, put together a winning strategy the following month.
The company was saved and the future was bright....
The Christmas moral? Strategy doesn’t have to be complex, confusing, or completely missing – it’s easy, fun and engaging when done well.
Happy Christmas from everyone at Lucidity 🎄
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