Does your organisation use storytelling?
How many stories do you share inside your company?
Peer-to-peer content is amazing for internal communication. Stories of ‘people like you are doing things like this’ are viewed as credible and trusted. More so than content from the CEO! See the Edelman Trust Barometer for more info about levels of trust.
In a varied career, spanning over 20 years, he has advised leadership teams and led Comms teams in Retail, FMCG and Construction – working for organisations as diverse as The John Lewis Partnership, Unilever, Laing O’Rourke and Royal Mail Group.
He worked in central government for The Cabinet Office, joining in the summer of 2007, shortly after Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister.
He is also a freelance writer and journalist who created two podcasts radio shows during lockdown: Comms from the Shed; and How Can U Just Leave Me Standing? In search of Prince – which are widely available on iTunes; Spotify; Amazon Music and various other channels. Based in London, he is a father of two, and an enthusiastic musician in his spare time.
I love using stories in my work. When I talk on stage I use stories to highlight ideas, illustrate examples and provide context. I’ve met people who have remembered the stories I told years ago at conferences and gone on to use them in their own work.
Stories are powerful; they resonate and are memorable. They can help create a sense of belonging and underpin an organisation’s culture.
I’ll hand you over to Sam so you can find out more about the work he’s doing. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Why storytelling inside organisations matters more than ever
From the moment we’re born we – and those around us – start to tell the story of our lives. And this matters because it helps us form memories, make sense of the world and our place within it.
Stories delighted us all as children, made us wide-eyed with wonder and fired our imaginations, but they also helped entire civilisations preserve cultures orally and pass on vital information to future generations. So storytelling is about survival.
Late last year I visited one of Fortnum’s kitchen’s with an HR colleague, to capture (what I thought would be) a Chef’s story about South-African food. As I described it on LinkedIn, I asked Gerson Oppelt how he made a dish – but in turn he educated me on 300 years of history and multiculturalism in three minutes.
Storytelling matters so much now, because as individuals and organisations we increasingly want to curate our stories with care, in more and more sophisticated (but also simplistic) ways, and be in control of that narrative in our time poor lives.
Poetry is a story, a Tweet can be a story, a picture tells a story – but is the story of your organisation clear…or even accurate? Does it reflect who you really are?
In her latest Candid Comms podcast episode Rachel asked ‘where are the gaps’? Although it was related to channels, I also think it’s a fundamental question in terms of our company stories.
Further reading: Candid Comms Podcast: How to create an IC channel strategy.
One of the great privileges for communications professionals, is (often) being welcomed in by leadership teams and asked candidly what we think those ‘gaps’ are. I’ve always tried to be honest, but also respectful. I never take it for granted. It comes with great responsibility…as a superhero once said.
Surprisingly the gaps are often very basic, and well known – but no-one seems to be able to get to them.
People stories! Why are they missed, and why isn’t it easier to tell them?
If it was easy everyone would be doing it, as the old maxim goes – but there’s a bottom line, various stretched support functions, day to day pressures…and often the ‘characters’, we all know exist, are reticent to engage with what they see as corporate (Big Brother-ish) channels.
The answer? You have to commit the time to meeting people, be amongst them, be visible, be credible, listen and be interested. And once you’ve met, keep in touch, connect, make them part of your network and keep them updated.
Storytelling, at its best, is an instinctive thing and is about the initial point of inspiration, the first contact, the first meeting, the first time you heard the story yourself.
What makes you feel compelled to investigate? If you don’t commit there and then, the moment can be lost. You don’t open a story book with a child, tell them it looks interesting and suggest reconvening a meeting in a week’s time.
A child will always ask you to read the next chapter, because the best stories leave everyone wanting more. The Star Wars trilogy, the Netflix series’ we binge on…the list goes on.
A basic barometer
What’s the ‘breaking news’ for you right now? One basic barometer could be to take 4-5 colleagues, with a diverse mix of roles, and ask yourself what would make them say ‘I love this’ or feel compelled to share it internally or externally?
What is the X Factor in your culture, what’s unique, quirky, original, or authentic that would surprise people? Capture it no matter how small, and play it back while it’s live – and while you’re inspired. That’s what the child would do…before it gets stuck in corporate treacle or falls into turgid debates about how to capture it, or where it fits in the company story.
The reality is that resonance IS fit.
Like all good stories, mine has a limit! At this point I need to self-edit, so a few personal tips.
- Looks for the gaps (in your company story) – what’s not clear, not articulated?
- Trust your instincts – what delights you?
- Capture the moment asap – don’t let it pass – there will always be something more important
- What is the visual – could they get most of the story from an accompanying picture?
- Share widely, be committed and believe – don’t assume stories go viral (without a push).
Often the most powerful stories find their way out into the world, because we want them to – resistance is futile. As the person who has responsibility for telling the most engaging stories in your organisation, shouldn’t it be you who has the instinct and the know-how to tell them, even if that means advising others how to?
You may be the adviser or the coach, but you’re also the in-house journalist, an editor-in-chief with the barometer on what works (or doesn’t).
In the words of George Clinton and Funkadelic: “There is nothing harder to stop than an idea whose time has come to pass!”
Post author: Sam Bleazard.
Thank you Sam.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I’m curious to know how you use storytelling inside your organisation. Do get in touch, check out my guest article guidelines if you’re an in-house IC professional with a story to share.
Want to know more about storytelling inside organisations?
Here’s some further reading via the All Things IC blog:
- Ten tips to transform your storytelling
- How to increase trust in your organisation
- How to write about equity, diversity and belonging
- Celebrating a 150th birthday through storytelling – published 2017
- Storytelling hacks for Comms pros – published 2014
- How storytelling delivers results for three companies – published 2016
- Telling tales: storytelling as a communications tool – published 2012.
First published on the All Things IC blog 6 January 2022.