Close the Gaps

Case Study: Finding the missing pieces of the story to bring about change.


Faced with a monumental change from dozens of systems into one integrated supply chain, Nike's change team engaged David Drake to help them identify and address issues that had emerged. David worked with the team to get to the crux of the matter and provided training on narrative coaching for the team and SMEs to help shift the culture in line with the new systems. The project was able to move forward with great success.

Nike's challenge

The company had embarked on a global project to move from dozens of software systems to one integrated supply chain platform. The results from their pilot were not what they had hoped for, so I was asked to work with their change team to determine what they had missed and what needed to be done.

They were in an in-between time—moving from one strong, clear Story through a time with many stories. They identified two key points of personal anxiety: (1) “How can I do my current job and learn the new one at the same time?” and (2) How do I get through this challenge to my/our story and what will this mean for me and for Nike?

Outcome: I did a series of narrative interviews from which we collectively identified three issues that had been insufficiently addressed in their change and roll-out strategies. Each of them were related to people and the major shifts in their culture and practices as a result of the new system.


  • Build bridges between old stories and a new Story.

  • Use stories from their personal and professional past to legitimate their new role as beginners and tap lessons learned then.

The process

They were looking to preserve the best of their culture as they introduced a standardized system, schedule, and text-based language into their iconoclastic, casual and image-based workplace. They were experiencing a significant shift in their vocabulary in going from isolated sets of acronyms to a shared lexicon.

We explored the internal implications of “Just Do It” and identified actions that were no longer possible or desirable; and identified strengths they could draw on to cross the threshold—both as a change team and as employees.

Outcome: We acknowledged that “how things are done around here” was changing significantly; and co-developed strategies to bring their core values forward in the new world.


  • Find ways to keep alive the values and the social/cultural functions served by the old practices while simultaneously embedding the new expectations for compliance.

  • Help each silo translate their old terms into the new language and support the migration. Support the best new stories and help retire the old.

What was the solution?

I ran a two-day session with seventy subject matter experts and the change team members to equip them to use stories and coaching to enable others to engage in the project, and I worked with the global team to address the issues we had identified. Much of this had to do with teaching them how to help people to place their experiences and stories in a broader narrative in order to move forward.

They were being asked to convey a clear stance that this change was good for Nike—part of which meant normalizing people’s experiences, enrolling those already onboard, and persuading those who were skeptical. The change team needed to manage the tensions between the implications of their brand and the expectations of the new systems.

Outcome: Participants told stories from their personal/professional past to legitimate and inform their new role as beginners in preparation for doing the same for others as change agents.


  • Build strong relationships in which you can be empathetic and consistent with the message, “This is happening” in order to keep it moving forward with success.

  • Make explicit the deep roots of the brand in their culture; identify actions reflective of that brand that were no longer possible or desirable; and identify ways to maintain brand legacy and coherence in the face of the requirements of the new system.

What was the result?

The participants went back to their respective part so the organization to support the broader roll-out. The change team used their new skills to address the larger organizational issues we had identified. For example: the leveling of the ‘playing field’ in which seniority did not matter as much and the old guard at the top of the old silos were suddenly without status/power as it had suddenly moved over to “those young kids” who knew the most about the new system.

They were confronted with change at so many levels that it was hard to keep it all straight at times. This was all the more reason why working at the narrative level was so helpful for them as it allowed them to all stay connected to and aligned.

Outcome: Former leaders were acknowledged for what they had done and their capabilities were redirected; new leaders were identified and coached; the new system was successfully implemented across the globe.


  • Attend to the shifts in the balances of power, acknowledge the old leaders for what they have done and redirect their gifts/experience, and identify and equip those who will take the new system forward.

  • Address the technical, the (inter)personal and the systemic issues even as you keep holding the bigger picture for where it is all headed.

Sandy Lurins