Author: Alastair Hagger

Why the human side of digital transformation is more important than ever

The greatest challenge of digital business transformation is keeping it human. Your people and customers are integral to that process, and the story you tell about the benefits of this change could define the very future of your organisation.

“We live in a digital world,” said the internet entrepreneur Omar Ahmad, “but we’re fairly analogue creatures.” We crave the fuzzy warmth of the human, even as the cold, crisp inevitability of digital transformation accelerates rapidly around us.

As a leader, you can marry both worlds within your organisation by dovetailing the human and the digital in one seamless story of success. But what are the challenges that first need to be understood as you embark on your digital transformation journey?

Looking inwards: overcoming resistance to change

As the pandemic gathered momentum, it was all hands to the pump – people embraced the need for new digital solutions in the ‘needs must’ atmosphere of crisis management. But as our lives begin to return to a semblance of ‘normal’, there is a danger that your workforce will gradually feel less engaged with new ways of working that are very much here to stay.

Therefore, it’s crucial that your people feel empowered, not intimidated, by these new digital tools, as part of an inspiring and innovative business culture of continuous learning:

  • Your leadership needs to be authentic and visible, so that your employees understand that the organisation’s core values are still aligned with their own.
  • Your people must feel part of a coherent and cohesive organisational story, in which their own individual narratives about the digital transformation experience are included and valued.
  • And the transformation journey must take advantage of cross-team communities, where ideas and solidarity alike are encouraged to flourish and pollinate your company’s digital evolution.

Unless your workforce is united by and committed to digital transformation through this culture of continuous learning, your organisation is at risk of fracturing into increasingly isolated silos, whereby departments retreat into favoured ways of working and preferred technologies. The solution is systems thinking – a holistic, inclusive receptiveness to cross-organisational problem-solving, in which everybody’s voice is heard.

Communication is key, across vertical and horizontal axes. How do your employees exchange ideas, or express dissatisfaction? How well are you, as their leader, helping them understand the ways in which digital tools can protect the security of communications and data, improve and simplify workflows, and enable workers to touch base with colleagues across different departments and time zones? Are they aware of all the ways in which AI can augment the workforce, enhance creativity, personalize the experience of their customers, and create new collaborative opportunities amidst the thrilling potential of the ‘metaverse’?

Looking outwards: your customers are more than just ‘data’ points

Big Data has given organisations unprecedented access to their customers’ habits, needs and desires, and has allowed them to tailor their products and services accordingly, and with ever greater efficiency.

But it’s easy to lose sight of the human being hidden behind the digital noise they create. We see with ever greater clarity the granular specificity of commercial behaviours, but as more processes become further automated or managed by AI, our view of the beauty and individuality of human experience seems to become more clouded.

In order to extract the warm human analogue from the data-driven digital, business leaders need to embrace big ideas alongside Big Data. In the Insights 2030 report from data consulting company Kantar, empathy emerges as the key consideration when seeking to understand your customers as people, rather than habits. Empathy is the heartbeat of storytelling, and storytelling is the medium through which both your inward- and outward-facing communications will be at their most powerful.

The human warmth we crave need not be lost in the dizzying maelstrom of the digital transformation journey. The ‘analogue’ of the human experience within your organisation can itself become its central story – a narrative about an empathetic company culture that embraces ideas and innovation. Digital transformation presents an opportunity – to tell a compelling story that makes sense of these changes, celebrates the myriad ways they will benefit your workforce and its customers, and unites your people behind an energizing, inherently human common purpose.

Going global with a story of shared success

Let’s be honest – we’ve all experienced a touch of Zoom fatigue these last few months, and we might even have zoned out a little during the last virtual meeting of a long day. We crave the connective tissue of a physical work hub: the in-person idea storms, the water cooler catch-ups, the good-natured envy of the comfortable corner office, the nuanced emotional punctuation of the gesture and the smile and the raised eyebrow. 

We may have watched our teams slowly become disengaged. Perhaps we’ve noticed a worrying fragmentation in our company culture, seen an erosion in our organisation’s understanding of its common purpose, or felt that our leadership teams have drifted out of alignment.

As we turn the harrowing page of 2020 to the hope and dynamism of a new human story in 2021, we may forget that those countless laptop interactions have in fact been offering us a glimpse of something vibrant, positive, and packed with possibility. Something that is very much here to stay: a dynamically networked virtual world, an opportunity to create global organisations that span many different countries and regions.

Thinking globally

But how do we foster a truly global ‘virtual’ mindset in our organisations, and transform Zoom zone-outs into cross-cultural, planet-spanning success stories?

Matt Mullenweg is the founder of Automattic, the software company that runs the publishing platform giant, with more than 1,000 employees working remotely in 77 countries. In a July interview with The New York Times, Mullenweg talked about the resistance he encountered from investors to the idea of remote working before the company’s inception in 2005. 

“There’s a very intangible magic that people imagine happens in an office that’s necessary for innovation or design,” he says. “There were a lot of biases. And to be honest, it’s hardest to change when you’ve been successful doing something in the past.” Fifteen years later, Automattic is worth US$3 billion, with 30 per cent of global bloggers using WordPress as their platform of choice. 

Automattic’s success was born out of a company culture that embraced the potential of ‘virtuality’, creating the story of a shared understanding that the office of the future could be anything its employees wanted it to be. 

“I’ve been to the offices of billionaire CEO’s that have their own private bathroom, beautiful art and couches,” he says. “But these are all things that you can have in your house. What I love about distributed organisations is every single employee can have a corner office.”

While his 2005 detractors may have predicted a slump in productivity in his remote workforce, Mullenweg says that in reality, people take less “away from keyboard” time than they should, and that this phenomenon is tracked and flagged up when it’s clear that an employee is in need of a short refresher break, or even a longer vacation. 

A connected vision

This kind of compassionate, visionary leadership requires a ground-up transformation in “the way things are done” patterns of thinking. Leaders need to rally their teams into the brave new virtual worlds of the century’s third decade with a compelling and motivating cultural story, if they wish to thrive in international markets and avoid the cross-cultural mishaps of a disengaged workforce working virtually, and in isolation, across different time zones.

The Storytellers can provide the means to help inspire your team to make this journey, and the momentum to transform “the way things are done” into “the way things could be”. A thousand individual corner offices – but a singular, interconnected vision, one unified global aspiration.

Story-driven change

The Storytellers can help you revolutionise your company’s culture by setting out a story-driven goal – an emotionally compelling narrative that can act as a motivational catalyst to positive, lasting change. Small but significant stories of achievement are pooled from teams across your organisation, wherever they are based, from the corner office, to the staff canteen, to the laptop in a café. These stories then feed into your defining business narrative, further fuelling inspiration, camaraderie and connectivity across each and every one of your company’s different time zones, cultures and productivity styles.

Download our Culture Change ebook today and learn how The Storytellers can make going global central to your organisation’s shared story of future success. 

The age of story

Welcome to the age of meaning. 

Today’s world is like nothing we’ve ever known.

The forces of change – health, technology, globalisation, demographics, climate – transform the way we work, live and learn.

In an age of staggering human connection, networks thrive, world-views are overturned, the power of personal testimony builds empathy with billions. But by living plugged-in lives, we struggle with isolation, anxiety and a rising politics of division; physically disconnected from our communities, we battle to connect action to the moral imperatives of our time.  

Our future is fragile. As nation states withdraw their benevolence from our lengthening lives, we look to work as our long-term security. Yet our skills are threatened, in a talent pool expanding at the rate of digital connection. 

It’s an astonishing shift. As the digital divide disappears, our ability to adapt will see us sink or swim. 

We urgently seek meaning: new narratives to anchor us in disorienting waters, to give us a reason to evolve. We’re sceptical of the myths that bind us to thoughtless work, to old forms of power. We distrust, but we hope. There is a new social contract to be struck.

We need authenticity from our leaders: we’re tired of the gaps between words and action. We want our work to align with our values: we see it as an extension of ourselves. We seek purpose: we’ve watched the world burn in the name of profit, and we want to be part of something more valuable than a pay check.

We crave a story about who we really are.
A story we’re proud to tell.

Welcome to the new age of leadership.

The currents are unpredictable. Old maps are useless, hierarchies invalid. You will navigate transformation, disruption, upheaval; shocks, disasters, pandemics. The rise of the new, the decline of the old. 

And shareholder expectations haven’t shifted. The City never sleeps. 

Your business has responded. The engine of management has kicked into gear. The air feels thick with change, but it’s hard to see open water in the darkness. Your teams are overwhelmed. You sense panic gathering like a storm: whispers of fear and frustration, gaining a momentum that just might breach the hull.

There is no going back. Your crew need to see the epic potential of the voyage. New lands of possibility are ahead. New territory to claim. An opportunity to make a difference.

The game is transformation, not just tenure. Sustainability, not just shareholders. Purpose, not just profit. You can lead a revolution – and that power resides in your people. In the face of automation, true resilience lies in human capital: communication, creativity, and collaboration; the ability not simply to compute, but to empathise.

It’s a battle for hearts and minds – and they’re looking to their captain. They need a vision of a world made better because of the part you help them play. 

This is our new normal. And you need a radically new way to lead.

Welcome to the age of Story.

We call it the age of possibility. The age of resilience. The age of engagement. 

Leadership is not just a toolkit. Storytelling is not just a skill. 

Storytelling is fundamental, because the leaders of the new age can articulate, embody and realise a shared story of possibility.

Storytelling is coherent, because it provides the motivation, means and momentum to shift behaviour, take action and navigate complex journeys of change.

Storytelling is smart, because it empowers people, your biggest source of innovation. 

Storytelling is sustainable, because its dynamic structures help us adapt, while anchoring us to the meaning we need to stay afloat. 

Storytelling is human advantage, because it helps your teams align behind a shared mission, enabling the collaboration that fuels real progress.

We are The Storytellers. We move people to do great things through the power and influence of storytelling.

Our approach is simple. Stories are survival, our most primal means of learning, communicating and evolving. Every story takes us on a journey of change, using the universal structures of all cultures. 

To lead is to be the storyteller: to create the conditions for a journey of change. This is no easy task. But there are three simple conditions that need to be met.

By helping us find meaning and purpose in a shared context, stories give us the emotional motivation we need to take action.

By teaching us the lessons we need to navigate change, process complexity and retain information, stories give us the means we need to adapt.

And by defining and amplifying the norms that shape our identity, stories build momentum behind the behaviours we need for a new world.

The Storytellers’ unique approach helps leaders inspire their people to transform and accelerate performance.

Our integrated storytelling programmes are delivered by an interdisciplinary team of experts in narrative and narrative-driven events, virtual events, leadership development, learning solutions and award-winning creative campaigns.

So step aboard. Navigate the thrilling seas of this challenging new world with us.

Join the movement. 

To find out more about the power of story, download our e-book: Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change, and get in touch with our consultants today:

The integrity of purpose

Ruined reputations spin lasting stories.

We are living through times where the careless, the insensitive, or the selfish act can impact not only the reputations of those responsible but also the health and wellbeing of other human beings. The eyes of the world are closely watching the decisions that businesses make; mistakes during a pandemic mean so much more than just managerial errors of judgement.

A BOOHOO warehouse is a “coronavirus breeding ground”, in the words of its own staff, and the company loses 40% of its share price in just two weeks. Sports Direct lobbies the government to keep stores open at the start of the outbreak, and must make a humiliating public apology just days later. The union GMB reports that 98% of its ASOS workers feel unsafe in one of the retail giant’s warehouses, which is overwhelmed with new orders after its German counterpart closes.

These companies will now be looking to rapidly re-examine their purpose and values. They will need to refresh priorities and repair the damage done to customer perception, but they also will be mindful of the internal implications of a purely profit-driven agenda: disengaged, unhappy employees, searching for new horizons at an organisation whose values are more closely aligned with their own. The global trust deficit is widening. Discussions about corporate purpose are increasingly framed around authenticity and benevolence, and employees are instinctively inclined to look to their employer for guidance during a crisis: the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, for example, indicates that staff trust their company’s coronavirus information first, before NGOs, governments and media.

The implications are obvious. Getting things wrong can and will have a devastating effect on a company’s health and reputation; getting them right can dynamically propel an organisation into the ‘new normal’, fitter and stronger than ever.

One organisation getting it very right is the luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). Its perfume and cosmetics sites have retooled their lines to make hand sanitiser gel for hospitals; it is producing masks at 12 of its workshops; and proceeds of sales of several of its products have been donated to the WHO Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. At Easter, it gifted 3,000 Easter chocolates to hospitalised children and children of medical personnel in Paris hospitals, and breakfasts to hospital staff throughout the crisis. It has also reached out to a variety of partner organisations, such as Viva Technology and St Martin’s School of Art, to explore ways in which technology and social media can provide innovative practical solutions and digital community initiatives. LMVH has dramatically repositioned its purpose: out of a mission to provide luxury has emerged a compassionate drive to help, support and comfort people in need.

Businesses emerging into the world of the ‘new normal’ need to harness the powerful, inspiring integrity of storytelling to ensure their journey is authentically and reliably purpose-driven. And in these socially distanced times, a digitally-driven story is the most effective mechanism for creating a purpose-driven organisation.

Reputations are stories. Let us help you tell yours. 

A new hope

There is hope in stories.

Our journey to the ‘new normal’ has been an arduous one. There have been times for all of us when our destination has seemed out of reach: a distant light in the darkness. What will this safe haven look like, and what will our role in it encompass? Are we, and our world, forever changed? 

Businesses around the world are now faced with challenges unimaginable barely months ago. As we slowly emerge from the lockdown, we may still struggle under the weight of so many personal and public memories, at work and at home, full of sadness for what we have lost and fear for an uncertain future.

How do we regroup? How do we ensure that we do not lose disengaged employees to companies who are committed to making a greater contribution to society? How do we reassure team members that we too have a clear purpose and vision in this startling new world? In a reconfigured employment landscape of remote working, are we fully cognisant of the pitfalls of failing to create fully collaborative teams, and the catastrophic drops in performance that may follow?

We all have a story to tell from the last few months. Stories record the worst of times. And they lead us, renewed, into the best.

Multinational brewery and pub chain Brewdog understands this better than most. Famous for its craft beers and lagers, Brewdog has benefitted from the 30 per cent increase in alcohol sales across the UK during the lockdown. But it has also pivoted to a new model that embraces the needs of a new reality, with ‘Business as a Force for Good’ as its narrative. Its Aberdeen distillery now produces hand sanitiser, with over £1 million pounds’ worth of these supplies being donated to health care charities, key frontline workers & NHS Hospitals. Its founders are all foregoing their salaries for 2020 to protect the jobs of its employees. Its Colombus, USA operation is donating canned water to food pantries and homeless shelters.

None of these innovations would be possible without a common understanding throughout the entire organisation of how Brewdog can both continue to thrive and contribute to a greater good. The message from its CEO, James Watts, is a pithy one, but its simplicity tells a bigger story: “United we will get through this.”

The most inspiring leaders – the game-changers who can navigate our passage to and through the new normal, and bring everyone along with them, with a shared and humane impetus – are the ones who can connect people with story.

Our multi-disciplined team at The Storytellers has the unique narrative tools to assist you in articulating your company’s own clear, compelling purpose. You’ll achieve collective ownership of the story in a truly connected organisation: united in its vision, and full of hope for the future. 

There is hope in stories. The Storytellers will help you tell yours. 

To find out more about the power of story, download our e-book: Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change, and get in touch with our consultants today:

HRD Summit 2020 – ‘Harnessing Human Creativity’

It’s 2020. The corporate landscape is more volatile than ever. At The Storytellers, we see this as an exhilarating challenge. Live in the now, look to the future, and ask yourself: is your organisation ready to be the hero of its own story?

On February 4th– 5th, the annual HRD Summit plays host to the most senior HR and business leaders on the globe. And we will be there. This year, at the ICC in Birmingham, 150 speakers – including our Co-Founder and Director, Alison Esse – will discuss the theme of ‘Harnessing Human Creativity’. 

Here’s the Summit’s ‘call to action’:

“The pace of change is more rapid than ever. Economically, politically, socially; as the world changes, it’s the organisations that can transform right along with it that will find success. Organisations are being required to rethink it all or risk being left behind, from their basic business models to their core identities. What is their purpose? Who do they want to be?”

What is your business’ purpose? Who do you want to be? Alison will be giving a masterclass at 12.30pm on the 4th of February titled ‘Resetting Your Organisation’s Narrative to Inspire Change’. At The Storytellers, we harness the power of storytelling to move people to accelerate change and transform business performance. How do we do this, and how can it help you harness the creative potential within your organisation?

Alison will be discussing:

  • How storytelling brings meaning and purpose to work,
  • Why people resist change (and what to do about it),
  • How leaders can use storytelling techniques to inspire change, and
  • How to construct an emotionally compelling strategic narrative.

We make meaning through stories. As Alison will show, an organisation can utilise the universal power of storytelling to identify and articulate its struggles and endeavours, create a hero’s ‘call to action’, and help its people to contribute to something bigger than themselves. All great stories – from Aristotle to Ad Astra – use this narrative framework to develop and foster a deep and satisfying emotional connection. Why? Because when people feel empowered and inspired by storytelling, they want to become the hero of their own narrative. They feel they can change.

In a business context, storytelling helps us to recognise and celebrate what we have achieved, understand what is possible, and engage us all in the role we need to play. Great storytellers are thus great leaders – because they inspire us with what we can achieve together. By creating the motivationmeans and momentum essential to shifting behaviour, we’ve helped leaders at over 170 major organisations move their people to accelerate change and transform business performance – through the power and influence of storytelling. 

Want to know more? Attend Alison’s masterclass on the 4th of February and drop by for a chat at stand 27 in the ICC. We’d love to tell you more about how we can help you use the power of storytelling to navigate more effectively through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that characterises the business landscape today.

Here’s our ‘hero’s call to action’: See you in Birmingham! 

Harmonise Ambiguity: Lead the Chorus with Story

In Feel Like a Number, 1978’s plaintive rock paean to crushing corporate anonymity, the American songwriter Bob Seger roars about life as “just another spoke in a great big wheel, like a tiny blade of grass in a great big field”.

It’s a story that endures. Musicians, like all creatives, have long bemoaned the white-collar world and its structures – its need for order where art seeks chaotic, free abandon. It’s easy to see leaders as villains in this narrative: the wheel crushing the butterfly, the field of uniformity swallowing up the unique and the unusual. But the paradox is that creativity often thrives between the parameters marked out by robust leadership. Great music is just a powerful, emotive narrative told by great musical leaders, and the same power of story can be harnessed in business to inspire, accelerate change and transform performance.

In this era of uncertainty and ambiguity, the leaders of the 21st century must embrace new ways of imagining the traditional management story. This is not the management landscape of Bob Seger’s 1970s – or even of a decade ago, when “topics such as inclusion, fairness, social responsibility, understanding the role of automation, and leading in a network were not part of the leadership manifesto” (Deloitte, 2019). The future is now – and story is an essential tool in shaping how your organisation embraces that future.

The 21st century organisation is no longer judged on just financial results. It must be diverse and inclusive, or risk alienating both staff and consumer; it must be involved with and empathetic to its wider context in society, or be dismissed as regressive; it must understand the advent of the ‘superjob’ and its symbiosis with artificial intelligence and automation, or risk falling behind in an accelerating technological arms race; it must access and exploit the ‘alternative’ remote personnel, or risk leaving unfillable gaps in its workforce.

We sometimes refer to the ‘symphonic’ C-suite, an ideal balance of leadership talents which can overcome any obstacle when deployed effectively. But to address the challenges of the 21st century we need to tell a broader story – one that gives a voice to the orchestra, not just the conductors.

At The Storytellers, we focus on the 3Ms of behavioural change: building motivation through meaning, connection and personal storytelling; giving people the means to help them learn independently through storytelling; and creating momentum to keep this new shared story alive.

Leaders need to provide motivation to their ‘orchestra’, through the inspiring power of story. They need to give them the means through which they can achieve a collective mission – the organisation’s platinum album, its sold-out world tour, if you will. And they need to maintain the momentum of success, so that the unforgettable ‘song’ isn’t remembered as merely a ‘one-hit wonder’.

Story can bring your strategy to life, and help you lead like a maestro. 

In a 2009 TED Talk on the musician-management styles of some of the 20th century’s most famous conductors, the Israeli musician and leadership expert Itay Talgam likens the concert hall to the ‘little office’ of the orchestra leader. “Or rather a cubicle, an open-space cubicle, with a lot of space,” he says. “And in front of all that noise, you do a very small gesture. And suddenly, out of the chaos, order. Noise becomes music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.”

The key is treating these people as members of an emotionally collaborative creation, rather than just instruments in a room. “When it’s needed, the authority is there,” Talgam says. “It’s very important. But authority is not enough to make people your partners.” He warns against the heavy-handed authoritarianism of the Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, who received a letter from the 700 employees of the Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan which read: “You’re a great conductor. We don’t want to work with you. Please resign.”

Get this balance right, however, and Talgam says you will unlock irresistible potential. “You’re telling the story,” he says. “And even briefly, you become the storyteller to which the community, the whole community, listens to.”

The music journalist Tom Service spent hours watching how these leaders work with their musicians while researching his book Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and Their Orchestras. His conclusions draw obvious parallels with the personalities of the business world, where human dynamics are equally delicate; like Talgam, he cautions against didacticism. The best leaders tell an inspiring, inclusive story in which everyone has an important role.

“The last thing the best conductors do is to force a group of musicians to do their bidding,” he told The Guardian. “Performances are constructed through patient hours of listening, so that each player has the chance to build up a similar mental, musical and emotional map of the piece in question.” He cites Simon Rattle’s relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic, in which he is “continually shaping and moulding the orchestra’s sound”, rather than directing or controlling it, and says that while every musician he spoke to wanted to be valued both as an individual as well as part of a collective, “they also would not tolerate a lack of inspiration or leadership from the person on the podium.” In other words, empathy without direction, and vice versa, will hit a bum note. Your workforce – your ‘musicians’ – need to be connected to their purpose through the story you tell as an inspiring leader.

The history of music is peppered with blood-curdling tales of tyrannical leaders, the autocrats whose musicians were in bondage to the story rather than free agents within it. For every Simon Rattle, there is a James Brown, who kept his band in a permanent state of groove-tight performance anxiety with mid-gig gestures equating to dollar penalties for every missed beat or imperfect riff. Thankfully, there are also leadership heroes aplenty in this tale, inspirational creatives who knew how to get the best out of their musicians by finding ways to touch their emotional core, and by successfully involving them in their creative story.

Reeves Gabrels, who founded Tin Machine with David Bowie, says that the iconic pop genius told his band members the story of a new song by giving them visual prompts to help them pursue a fresh sound.

“The first time we worked together he said, ‘Maybe you could build German gothic cathedral architecture out of guitar’”, Gabrels explained to the music website Quartz.  “Other times it was, ‘This should be like Jackson Pollock,’ or ‘This should be like ‘The Persistence of Memory’ by Salvador Dali, but with melting guitars instead of melting clocks.’ The reference points were rarely specifically musical. They were almost always visual or about feeling.”

Bowie was inviting his collaborators to fashion the musical story with him, to be architects in this cathedral of sound rather than just builders. Like all great storytellers, he wanted you to participate; he chose the creative tools, but then placed them in your hands. He inspired belief in the story, united his team with this creative inspiration, and accelerated their performance to new musical heights.

Academics at Warwick Business School have taken this to its logical extension – that good leadership fosters greater productivity regardless of discipline – by correlating the leadership skills of jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Art Blakey with the best practice of successful entrepreneurs. In her paper Leading Entrepreneurial Teams: Insights from Jazz, the school’s professor of Entrepreneurship, Deniz Ucbasaran, finds the mightiest giants of jazz history have much to teach us about business leadership. Ellington inspired decades of loyalty in his musicians through the alchemy of motivation and respect for their freedom; Blakey preferred an avuncular warmth, a paternal concern for his team’s well-being. Their success is less about a particular management style than striking the right balance between a leadership role and a collaborative one; by being able to articulate a vision, to tell a story about a musical destination and how it can be reached.

“If you have a creative process, you have to have talented employees,” Ucbasaran tells The Guardian. “But talent is not always easy to manage. You have to give them freedom and space,but direct them in subtle ways so that the end result comes together harmoniously.”

The true leaders of the 21st century can conduct the tricky ambiguity of modern business by telling a story that inspires a shared emotion that people can connect with – like the harmony in a beloved album track, or the last shared chorus of that unforgettable tour. Storytelling provides the motivation, means and momentum to help you strike that perfect chord.

Telling the Story of a Fit Financial Future

In early July Deutsche Bank, the biggest bank in the eurozone’s biggest economy, announced it was cutting 18,000 jobs – part of sweeping measures to reduce costs by approximately 6 billion euros over the next three years. Founded in 1870, the bank currently has 78,000 employees in over 70 countries. Any organisation about to lose a quarter of its workforce faces a painful process of transformation, but financial sector upheavals can have a particularly long-lasting and far-reaching impact if the transformation isn’t informed by a positive, inspiring story that looks ahead to a fitter, more profitable future.

Huge institutional changes create fear and uncertainty in a workforce, triggering a downward spiral of disengagement and plummeting morale. Highly skilled employees begin looking over their shoulders and investigating opportunities elsewhere; client confidence begins to dissipate rapidly as the waves of uncertainty ripple through the organisation to the public periphery. So the Executive team needs to galvanise behind a new strategic narrative – and quickly.

Deutsche Bank’s share price is currently at its lowest since 2007, so the stakes for its management team couldn’t be higher: tell a new story, and tell it well, or accelerate the metastasising perception of a business in terminal decline. Get this story right, and the transformation can rewrite an organisation’s history – it can even transform an entire economy.

Britain, February 15th, 1971: Decimal Day. After hundreds of years of fruitless discussion and stubborn inertia, Britain had at last accepted it was being left behind in a global monetary system that had embraced decimal currency centuries earlier. The rouble (1704), the US dollar (1785) and the franc (1795) were the envy of progressive economic thinkers who feared that Britain’s currency was stuck in a romanticised heyday. British currency was a complicated throwback to Roman times, where a silver pound was divided into 240 pence; over two millennia, it had spawned an idiosyncratic and complicated family of British coins which included the farthing, the shilling, the florin and the crown. 

The idea of a decimal silver currency had been first floated by mathematicians over 400 years ago. In a debate on decimalisation in the House of Commons in 1847, the MP Sir John Bowring argued that “every man who looks at his ten fingers saw an argument of its use, and an evidence of its practicability.” 

But the longevity of this archaic coinage was now deeply rooted in British culture, and its denominations were affectionately defended by its public. The ‘five farthings’ of the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ nursery rhyme, and the ‘thrupenny bit’ (three pence coin) hidden in the plum puddings served at Christmas, were intertwined strands of the country’s economic and cultural DNA. In addition, the changes to day-to-day structural minutiae required by the mooted new currency – telephone boxes and electricity meters would have to be refitted nationwide – made the public suspicious about how it would interfere with their lives. “I have not got the extra money to find for something I did not vote for and never would,” complained one guest house proprietor to her MP in 1970, a year before the watershed date now archly referred to as ‘D-Day’. “This has been forced on the public whether they want it or not.”

Either way, the public got their brand new pounds and pence on schedule, and without the disruption predicted by the new currency’s opponents. Given that the decision to convert to a decimal system had only been officially made in 1969, this success is a tribute to the efficiency of the government’s strategic storytelling and its willingness to listen to the concerns of its public. The unveiling of the new coins was staggered, and piggybacked on iconic cultural celebrations such as the 1969 FA Cup final, where the new 50-pence piece was used in the pre-match coin toss a full six months before its release into general circulation. By 1971, three of the six new coins were already in use, and a blitz of media publicity had prepared the public for the transformation, dissipating much of its fear (the sixpence, the UK’s most beloved coin, remained in circulation until 1980, so that the cultural habits of the past could dissolve more gently into the future). The broadcaster ITV aired repeat viewings of a short educational television drama, Granny Gets the Point, while the BBC createdan information film for schools called New Money Day. The messaging in this brilliant narrative was distinct and easily digestible: if Granny and the grandkids can happily welcome this transformation, so can you.

Effective strategic storytelling of this kind enables behavioural change through tools The Storytellers identify as the 3Ms: motivation through meaning, connection and personal storytelling; giving people the meansto help them learn independently through storytelling; and creating momentumto keep this new shared story alive.

Through meaningful emotional connection, storytelling can reassure an anxious grandmother with unfamiliar coins in her purse, or it can re-motivate a disengaged and fearful workforce faced with the uncertainty of significant transformation. For the first time since the financial crash of 2008, Deutsche Bank has an opportunity to reset and refocus, uniting Executives and the global workforce around a new strategy as they chart their way through a complex and uncertain global business landscape. A narrative-driven approach to landing the transformation, and the resulting strategic shift, can ensure that everyone is part of the story of this organisation’s journey towards a fit financial future.

From villain to hero – telling the whole story of the ‘Superjob’

“Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand,” wrote the Scottish essayist Thomas Caryle in 1820 of the First Industrial Revolution. “Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions, turn on mechanism, and are of a mechanical character.”

He was addressing a fear which seems eerily familiar today, as we embark upon the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an epoch delineated by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. This is the era where the lines between the physical and digital are becoming blurred: automation, artificial intelligence, and mobile supercomputing of a power unimaginable to a previous generation, let alone the world of the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is the age of the ‘superjob’.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report identifies the ‘superjob’ as the apex evolutionary offspring of the ‘hybrid job’. Hybrid jobs marry technical skills with ‘soft’ skills; superjobs “combine parts of different traditional jobs into integrated roles that leverage the significant productivity and efficiency gains that can arise when people work with smart machines, data, and algorithms.”

The advent of the superjob creates a significant challenge for the leaders of today. Organisations need to be actively ‘recoding’ their activity, i.e. “integrating machines and humans in the flow of work and creating meaningful roles for people.” Without this crucial shift in perspective, businesses risk falling behind in the race to re-skill existing staff with the tools they will need for the future, and opportunities to recruit  new employees already comfortable with this changing work dynamic – the ‘architects’ of the revolution – will be lost. By proactively replacing traditional job descriptions with inspiring new ‘job canvases’, in which the benefits of automation and augmentation to an individual’s productivity become central to the organisation’s story, a company can recode risk into reward.

This will take collaborative organisational imagination, and a shared vision of how man and machine in tandem can bring about exciting new outcomes – less Carlyle’s ‘mechanical’ men than humans using machines with their whole heart. Technologically-enhanced super jobs can be heroes of this revolution, not the villain.

In 2016, the creators of DeepMind, the British artificial intelligence company acquired by Google, challenged 9thdan professional South Korean Go player Lee Sedol to a five-game match against its AlphaGo program. ‘Go’ is the notoriously difficult 2,500 year-old board game played with black and white pieces on a grid of 19 x 19 lines. It takes years to master, with a quantity of potential moves that famously outnumbers the entirety of atoms in the universe.

Sedol, a boyish hero of the game ranked the second greatest player of all time, accepted the challenge with the nonchalant swagger of a champion at the peak of his powers. He positioned himself as the torchbearer of human intelligence entering the valley of this dark shadow of automation, the redresser of a balance lost by Gary Kasparov in his defeat to the IBM chess computer Deep Blue a decade earlier. 

The story would be different in this sequel; now it would be the humans striking back. Sedol emphatically predicted that AlphaGo would not win a single game.

In the second game, and already ahead in the series, the program played a maverick winning move so exquisitely odd, so alien, Sedol was frozen in its otherworldy headlights. “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move,” he said.

“So beautiful.”

AlphaGo won the series 4-1.

Sedol was crestfallen at the defeat, and apologised for letting mankind down, but at the end of the series he said that he was overwhelmed with gratitude to AlphaGo for allowing him to see the game he loved from a fresh and exciting new perspective. The program was not the obstacle, or the enemy – it was a catalyst for novel ideas and possibilities.

Sedol reworked the story of his interaction with technology from one of hubris and defeat into a narrative of hope and possibility. Fear of the unknown had become the joy of potential; man and machine had created a strange and exhilarating shared adventure. This is the impact of the storytelling perspective – the “efforts, attachments, opinions” of your workforce protagonists can be transformed into a dynamic shared vision of a prosperous future.