A recent article in Forbes spoke of the importance of story building in improving corporate performance, particularly through effective change management. The author makes a distinction between building and telling, but in both cases, the story remains a key element to work on, and above all a driving force on several levels:
Telling to align
The company needs to define and follow a clear direction. The story helps to materialize this direction, by setting the scene for the company's vision, mission and values in an inspiring way. At this level, the role and involvement of managers is essential: through their actions and commitment, they help to build, then disseminate and finally embody the stories that aim to get people to embrace change.
Telling stories to build a culture
An organization's culture is strongly influenced by the stories it tells. Storytelling helps to build and reinforce this culture by enabling employees to identify with a shared story that reflects the company's aspirations and values. It's an excellent tool, particularly in the case of mergers where cultures can collide.
Telling stories for change
Cultural change often generates resistance. Storytelling eases the transition by emphasizing success stories (based on concrete examples). The aim is to inspire and motivate people to embrace the new culture.
Telling to share
Since the aim of storytelling is always to move people to action, employee involvement is essential. They must contribute to the creation of the narrative by sharing their own stories. In so doing, they reinforce their sense of belonging.
Corporate storytelling should be seen as a strategic tool that, when used effectively, can transform culture, foster strategic alignment and engage employees in a shared vision.
A few examples:
Google: To attract the best talent, Google tells the story of a company where innovation is encouraged and the freedom to create is fundamental. Stories of projects born during the "20% free time" (such as Gmail) reinforce this image, even if the initiative is no longer in progress.
Deloitte: Deloitte launched the "Green Dot Story" program to reinforce the brand's identity among its employees. The green dot at the end of the logo became the symbol of reunification.
Ford: When Ford decided not to accept government financial support during the 2008 financial crisis, the company told its employees this story as a testament to the company's integrity and resilience.
IBM: The "IBM ValuesJam" initiative was a 72-hour session during which employees were invited to discuss and define IBM's core values. While the initial feedback was negative (with employees expressing resentment and discontent), the contributions evolved into a redefinition of IBM's values (and how they could fit into everyone's jobs) and the CEO's mandate.
These internal initiatives, reinforced by storytelling, aim to create a sense of belonging, align employees with a common vision and promote the company's values.
Of course, storytelling also manifests itself externally.
Storytelling and customers
This aspect of storytelling is more akin to advertising. Nevertheless, it relies on the same springs and aims to achieve similar objectives: to get people to adhere to and take action (in this case, to buy the product or service).
It's worth taking a closer look, because the most effective advertising also relies on emotions, while remaining aligned with internal storytelling.
Apple doesn't sell phones, it improves the lives of its users. Nike doesn't sell shoes, it sells self-improvement. IBM doesn't sell computers, it helps its customers succeed.
These few examples clearly reflect the link between the culture developed internally and the messages conveyed externally.
Dissonances do exist, and they can hurt. There was a time when Google promoted "Don't be evil", which in 2015 became "Do the right thing". One wonders how this fits in with its recent threats to stop referencing Canadian journalistic news in its search engine.
Let's get back to storytelling, which can also be put to good use on a more modest scale: that of the team!
Storytelling and my team
Storytelling can be a powerful tool for engaging, motivating and aligning employees around an internal vision or initiative. Here's how it could be implemented:
Storytelling to define team identity
Every team or department has its own culture, challenges and successes. Telling the story of the team's formation, the obstacles it overcame and the successes it achieved helps forge a shared identity. The story must, however, remain consistent with that of the organization.
Storytelling and individual contributions
Sharing stories about team members who have demonstrated innovation, overcome challenges or made a significant contribution, helps valorize efforts made and inspire other employees.
Storytelling to clarify vision and objectives
Using storytelling helps to illustrate the team's or department's vision. Particularly if the team has grown rapidly or the organizational structure has changed... and a certain vagueness has set in.
Storytelling to reinforce culture and values
If the team values certain skills or behaviors (such as collaboration, innovation or resilience), using stories helps put these values into action. In difficult times, sharing stories of previously overcome challenges can be a powerful motivator.
Storytelling to help integrate new members
For newcomers, hearing stories about past successes, team traditions or even mistakes and lessons learned can help them integrate more quickly and understand team dynamics.
Storytelling to celebrate success
Whenever the team achieves a goal or success, telling the story reinforces the sense of accomplishment and gives value to the work done. It's also a good way of showing appreciation for each other's contributions.
And the list could go on...
In a nutshell
Storytelling is a versatile tool that can be adapted to a variety of contexts and scales, from the strategic "macro" level to the more modest "micro" level of a team. Used judiciously, it can strengthen cohesion, give meaning to day-to-day work and help achieve objectives.Storytelling in business: inform, convince and lead to action
To learn more about our new services or to talk to us about your skills development needs, contact Cyrielle Renard at 514-380-8237 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.