Wasps, Inverness Creative Academy, Midmills Building, Stephen's St, Inverness, IV2 3JP

Transformation can be a scary and difficult process. How can we enact strategic transformation in a way that gets the whole organisation behind it?

At StrategyStory, we embrace transformation by using the idea of “Deep Structure” to guide us. This concept is all about empowering your team members to act on their own initiative by understanding the organisation’s core principles.

This is just a taster of some pretty complex ideas – we explore it in more detail in our podcast episode on the same topic. So, let’s get into it!

An image of a poll with the title: 'What kind of management style do you prefer?'. There are four options: 'Constant oversight', 'Freedom to pursue initiative', 'Ground rules to work by', 'A strict plan to follow'. 0% voted for option 1, 43% for option 2, 57% for option 3 and 0% for option 4.
LinkedIn Poll

According to our recent poll about management styles, around half and half said they valued ‘freedom to pursue initiative’ and ‘ground rules to work by’. You’ll notice nobody voted for ‘constant oversight’ or ‘a strict plan to follow’ – the slightly loaded wording there is tongue-in-cheek of course!

The options that weren’t voted for point to an old idea that unfortunately still lurks at the heart of our organisations: that the organisation is a type of machine. However in the 21st century, research shows that what actually makes organisations competitive is creativity and innovation – both of which are voluntarily imparted by employees. As our poll shows, times have changed and people value a chance to express themselves over being told exactly what to do, when they have to do it – so why hasn’t our management attitude changed too?

Professor Donald Maclean leads a workshop with a small group.

Deep Structure gives us a completely new way of looking at strategic change that doesn’t rely on outdated management methods. 

Drawing on a 5-year pioneering research project, an international network and a successful book co-authored with Robert MacIntosh and Craig Robertson, our co-founder of StrategyStory Donald Maclean believes that we should understand change as an “emergent” rather than a mechanical process. By “emergent” we simply mean a live situation that unfolds in real time – like a game of football. Deep Struture comes into the picture when we imagine how these processes are managed. While a football match cannot be scripted, it still operates according to a set of agreed rules, such as passing to your teammate or playing in an attacking style. It’s these rules-of-thumb that constitute Deep Structure. They are the guiding principles that govern coherent, collective improvisation.

Here’s a clip from our podcast episode where Professor Donald Maclean explains the concept…


The book: "Strategic Management: Strategists at work" set on a Highland beach on a sunny day
“This is one of the best strategy books in an increasingly crowded and noisy field.” Roy Suddaby, University of Victoria, Canada

In business, Deep Structure allows us to understand what the root principles of our organisation are. And where do I find the principles of my business, you might ask? Well, where we always find principles in social settings: in our stories.

Deep principles are often invisible and taken for granted, but if you gather your team together and discuss what has been happening, you’ll see that certain big stories or common threads start to emerge. For example, your stories might reveal patterns of behaviour that show that your business focusses highly on attracting new clients from overseas. You’ll find many such patterns start to emerge, and by sharing stories you and your team are able to notice the patterns you experience collectively and talk about change in a new way. Once you’ve gathered your principles, you can then discern which you want to keep and which have passed their sell-by-date.

Listen to Donald explain how Deep Structure applies to strategic change…

Once you’ve identified your core principles and those you want to change, the whole team now has a clear, shared vision of your guiding principles to work by. This can allow management to ease off and trust the creativity and initiative of employees to respond to these rules-of-thumb in their own way. We think this makes for much happier working teams, and a far more dynamic, innovative and competitive business!


Want to find out more?
Listen to the full episode on Deep Structure here for more ideas and tips. 

Image of Donald and Kate and StrategyStory podcast logo










Keep up with all our episodes by subscribing to The StrategyStory Podcast on your favourite listening platform right now.


Learn more about the theory of Deep Structure in Strategic Management: Strategists at Work

Front cover of Strategic Management: Strategists at Work

Click here for more.



About Kate

PIcture of Kate Hooper
StrategyStory’s Kate Hooper

Kate Hooper is a former BBC senior producer. She is an Ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland, and has led content and communication teams in a number of organisations. Kate has worked extensively across online, broadcast and print media, and wrote her own column for years. She has also led two of HIE’s Creative Industries business networks. Kate co-founded strategy and communications consultancy, StrategyStory in 2017  – a Highlands and Islands based business that works locally, nationally and internationally to help businesses craft their stories to reach audiences, staff and customers. Kate is also a non-exec director of charity and social enterprise, ILM Highland.


About Donald

Donald hosting a StrategyStory staff day
Donald hosting a StrategyStory staff day

In addition to co-founding StrategyStory, Professor Donald MacLean works at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Donald’s internationally published, ground-breaking research on strategy and strategic management is used by business and other academics across the world. His book, Strategic Management: Strategists at Work has been described as ‘genius’ and ‘tour de force’ by leading international scholars.



StrategyStory supports businesses to develop their strategies and their stories.  We deliver through partnership programmes, online learning, workshops, seminars and public speaking. We also deliver lectures, talks and sessions on strategy and storytelling at private and public events, and host events, workshops and training in Strategy, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Storytelling in our studio in the Inverness Creative Academy. 

If you are interested in finding out more please get in touch. hello@strategystory.co.uk

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