While metaphors are widely used in strategy teaching and development, this study aims to present an approach how to benefit from metaphor analysis in strategy implementation. The authors find that metaphors used by organizational actors in strategy implementation processes carry a great range of implicit meanings and tacit knowledge that – when made explicit and critically examined – may serve as early warning signals to anticipate difficult or problematic developments in the strategy rollout phase.
The authors conducted narrative interviews with the main protagonists involved in the implementation of a strategic knowledge management project for the sales force of a multinational telecommunication solution provider. The data collected resulted in the surfacing of distinct groups of metaphors used by different organizational groups at different phases of the project implementation.
The metaphor analysis showed that metaphors not only reflect but also foreshadow project developments, and thereby reveal organizational conflicts that may erupt at later stages of the strategy implementation. Learning through metaphors can be realized through a sensitization to the detrimental effects of particular metaphors, as well as through the revelation of inconsistencies between the metaphors used and the exposed behaviors.
The study is an in-depth case study of a strategy implementation project in one organization. While the findings are related to the particular case context, the methodological approach to use metaphor analysis as an early warning signal in strategy implementation can be replicated for strategy implementation processes in general.
Organizations may use metaphor analysis as a tool to calibrate to what extent their strategy implementation is aligned with initial strategic objectives. Metaphor analysis will be particularly helpful to check if there is an alignment in the implementation approach between different organizational groups. Such analysis can serve as an early warning signal for the strategy implementation phase.
The approach provides an inexpensive but very effective way of anticipating problematic project developments and unforeseen difficult collaborations during strategy implementation processes. With its focus on metaphors, it captures implicit meanings and connotations that business languages tend to filter out, yet that play a powerful role for enabling or obstructing strategy implementation.
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