25th January 2012

The Power of Storytelling

The stories we tell ourselves - our "life narratives" - create and maintain the realities we experience.  This is why storytelling has always been at the centre of human life, from camp-fires to Hollywood, from family myths to global news media.

For corporations, the "Corporate Narrative" determines the reality of the organisation - how it is perceived and experienced by all stakeholders, from employees to shareholders.  It determines the engagement, morale, performance and entrepreneurialism of employees; the cohesion, focus and effectiveness of teams; the confidence of the market and the attitude to risk and reward of investors - actual and potential. For corporations, there are always two Corporate Narratives.  

There is the official narrative, usually developed, approved and publicised by senior management and bought in to, explicitly or implicitly, by all employees when they join and other stakeholders when they engage with the organisation.

There is also the unofficial narrative.  This is made up of the stories employees tell themselves when they get up in the morning, when they get into their cars at the end of the day;  the stories they tell each other around the water cooler and in the canteens; the stories they tell their partners and children when they get home in the evening.  It is these unofficial stories that determines each individual's relationship with the work they do minute by minute, day to day ... it determines their engagement, their commitment, their motivation - all of which determine their performance and, therefore, the performance of the corporation.

When the official and unofficial Corporate Narratives are combined, feeding and informing, shaping and developing each other, the corporation is experiencing maximum health and performance.

When the two narratives diverge, the health of the corporation declines and energy, engagement and performance falls through the gap, lost and irretrievable. Even worse, when the divergence becomes obvious to the employee population, the rate of divergence accelerates.  Externally, belief and confidence in the corporation diminish.  The negative narrative becomes its own, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every employee has positive, energising, corporate-affirming experiences every day. They also have negative, de-energising and corporate-negating experiences.  What determines which experience feeds their and their colleagues narratives about themselves and where they work?

It is the responsibility of management to monitor the health of the corporation - to ensure, with positive intention, that it is the positive narrative available to every employee every day that feeds into the unofficial corporate narrative which, in turn, informs and reinforces the official corporate narrative.

Posted by Jefferson Cann

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