Stories can bring ideas to life and electrify people, in a way that facts and figures alone cannot. Humans are storytelling animals by nature; long before reading and writing were widespread, we used oral stories to communicate history, values and all manner of life instructions. Stories still constitute much of our formal art and entertainment, and continue to be prime conversational currency. We trade stories all the time.
This blog is about how this works in organisations: at the personal, team or organisation level, and both internally and externally.
New employees fill in the blanks about their company’s history, values, culture and strategy through the stories they hear… some of them deliberately cultivated, others more informally shared. They learn about the main characters in the business – the legends, the power brokers, the rising stars, the go-to experts, and even the failures – and what they did to acquire their roles and reputations. They get a feel for the rhythm and personality of the company.
The storytelling doesn’t stop there. People continue to tell stories about their employer, or about their partners upstream or downstream, or about their competitors. These stories illustrate strengths and weaknesses, company priorities, successes and failures. They describe how things really get done, and what happens to people who stand out (or screw up). These are the kinds of stories you might hear at drinks after work, or during the late-night bar session of the annual offsite event or sales conference.
Stories aren’t just about office gossip and network building. Some people use stories much more thoughtfully as a tool for persuasion: by building trust, by illustrating a particular perspective or value, by shifting the mood of a group, or by tapping into our more deeply-rooted emotions in a meaningful way.
Outside an organisation the ground is even more fertile for storytelling. Marketing professionals use stories to convey specific brand attributes or values. Customers or constituents tell stories about their personal experience with a company’s product or service. Activists tell stories to raise awareness or influence public opinion about particular issues such as environmental threats, public safety or economic policy. Business thinkers tell stories about organisations that stand out in the public imagination to illustrate certain points about what makes them successful (or not).
How can we understand and assess any given company’s ‘storybook’? What can the stories within it reveal about its culture, values, priorities and processes, both formal and informal? To what extent can it be crafted and curated to a company’s advantage? How can individuals use storytelling to connect more effectively with their colleagues and bring meaning to their message?
With this blog I will explore all the aspects of organisational storytelling that I find interesting… undoubtedly a broad set! I will also think about various approaches and tools for working with companies and organisations that want to manage their storybook more thoughtfully, and look for case studies to illustrate this in practise.
Please share your comments, questions and suggestions along the way!