Category: Change

Future-proofing your organisation in 2022

How leaders will grow resilience and relevancy through storytelling

Every day, we see firsthand the complex challenges that impact how people perform, and the opportunities leaders must seize to ensure their organisation remains relevant and resilient for years to come. 

In our experience, to ensure your business can adapt to any number of potential new scenarios, your people must be able to quickly make sense of the situation they face and feel empowered to take the right course of action to resolve it. 

In today’s non-linear world, rigid long-term plans can prove a burden or soon become irrelevant. Therefore, a strong compelling narrative will ensure everyone in your organisation understands their role and the purpose of what they do – even if the business goal or strategy has to quickly shift. This narrative can help you to establish the right culture to combat the aforementioned brittleness, as well as encouraging innovation and creativity so that your organisation can remain agile and maintain competitive advantage. It can also be used to help leaders build connection and belonging to help people to overcome their anxieties.

Featuring insights from members of The Storytellers team, our eBook on future-proofing your organisation considers how leaders can unleash the power of their organisation’s story to create belief and shift mindsets in the face of the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Explore how to:

  • Accelerate your ESG strategy
  • Embed hybrid working
  • Elevate your EVP
  • Sustain digital transformation
  • Lead with empathy

Complete the short form to immediately download your copy

Accelerating ESG strategy – what future story will your organisation create?

There’s no escaping it – environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy is now a critical part of the boardroom agenda. Among the business leaders working with The Storytellers, we’ve noticed a clear shift in mindset and response too. 

Underlined by the growing climate crisis, and further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, ESG has gained greater prominence because of how it’s seen by stakeholders and investors as a way to safeguard organisations against future risks to the global economy. It focuses on the areas of business that matter most to employees and, as highlighted in the latest EY Future Consumer Index, provides opportunities for businesses to create value and grow revenues by responding to the trend for sustainable consumption. 

Today, as business leaders around the world also come to terms with the practical implications of the outcomes of the COP26 summit – and the monumental task of decarbonising the global economy – there is a clear need for organisations to quickly turn their ESG strategy into meaningful action. Investors want clarity about the initiatives companies are undertaking, the reporting they are doing, and the returns they will generate. Brands around the world will increasingly be looked at and recognised for their leadership towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and employees are pursuing purpose at work. In short, taking no or limited action will simply become untenable. 

Ahead of us lies one of the biggest changes in mindset and strategy that the world has ever seen – but for businesses to deliver on this at the necessary pace and scale, they will also need to leverage the power of their people to make change happen. Leaders need a powerful narrative to begin to activate a movement within their organisations and around their brands. A narrative that connects people to the reasons for change and helps them to understand their role in achieving these bigger, better ESG outcomes for the benefit of everyone.

Talent and purpose

What ultimately brings us meaning and purpose is contributing to something larger than ourselves. Just like the climate change movement, the workplace is made up of thousands of stories of endeavour and achievement, but also disengagement and failures. Crucially, these stories shape our belief about the organisations we work for and the leaders who guide us. A strong narrative that articulates the collective purpose, the journey an organisation needs to take, and what success looks like, provides a vehicle through which we can play out our own personal ambition. Ultimately, top talent will want to be part of meaningful journeys that they truly connect with.

Turning strategy into action

To move their people from passively understanding the strategy to being compelled to act in service of it – leaders must identify ways to build ownership. People are more likely to take positive action if they feel they’ve helped to create it. Empowering teams and employees to identify ways in which they can contribute to a strategy unleashes great rewards.

Employee engagement and accelerated change

Whatever your views on a “disengagement crisis” one thing is clear –  employees that are inspired by their work are happier, more productive and are more likely to achieve remarkable things. With the scale of change ahead, this is the moment for leaders to challenge themselves – is engagement enough? Our experience shows that if leaders can find a mechanism to unite their people, inspire them and provide a clear plan, they can accelerate change and transform performance.

Brand perception and leadership legacy

Ultimately, leaders and organisations will be judged on this moment. Aside from taking action to benefit or mitigate the reputational risks to their brand, what was their wider response? What was the story of their organisation? How did they approach change and how successful were they in contributing to one of humankind’s greatest challenges?

If ever there was an opportunity to write a story for the ages – this is it.

How the stories of climate change can inspire business transformation

Climate change as a social movement has transformed in recent years, compelling increasing numbers of individuals, communities, nations and governments to take action. Key to this success has been the creation and communication of stories that have won hearts and minds to drive change.

Stories – used in the right way – have the power to transform cultures. Within large businesses, a clear, compelling narrative helps your people to become more understanding and responsive to even the most complex of challenges.

As the early stories of climate change have demonstrated, business leaders shouldn’t assume that by just focusing solely on the facts, it will be enough to bring people on your change journey. So what key lessons can we take away from the biggest stories at the heart of the climate crisis?

Evoking emotions has a long-lasting impact

If the story of your organisation connects people on an emotional level to your purpose, values and goals, it has the power to unite everyone behind your mission and motivate them to work in new ways.

In 2017, the second BBC ‘Blue Planet’ series continued to educate us on the wonders of the world’s oceans. However, it was the penultimate episode which focused on pollution that would go on to establish its legacy. In 50 minutes, narrator David Attenborough – a master professional when it comes to the art of storytelling – dramatically changed the mindset of the millions who tuned in, by showing in graphic detail the impact that microplastics are having on the lives of the marine life.

It led us to rethink our reliance on single-use plastic and compelled governments to take action by introducing a plastic bag tax in many countries. Even today, for those who watched that episode, the guilt wrought every time we pay for a new plastic bag demonstrates the long-lasting impact an emotive story can have on us.

Don’t dwell on the ‘doom and gloom.’ You need to complete the narrative

When there is too much focus on the challenge, people will remain reluctant to act without clarity on how it can be overcome. As we have previously experienced with climate change, when the narrative becomes too upsetting to follow, or the problem appears too great to solve, over time people will still disengage – regardless of its urgency or importance. 

The groundbreaking TV documentary series ‘Years of living dangerously,’ first aired in 2014, provided poignant first-hand reports on those affected by climate change – from the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the upheaval caused by drought in the Middle East. Series One was emotive; it educated millions and even won an EMMY, but it didn’t open our eyes to the growing number of climate change solutions in development. The show’s Executive producers also realised this, and to keep people engaged throughout the second series, they shifted the narrative from ‘this is happening’ to focus on ‘this must happen next’. 

In his latest book ‘A Life on our Planet’, Attenborough also shows us the impact of a complete narrative. It begins with his amazing backstory as a pioneer in television and natural history film-making, while witnessing first-hand the destruction of the natural world. It then explores the hard reality of what is likely to happen if we don’t make radical changes. But crucially, in the final section, the narrative moves to a new ‘vision,’ as he outlines the journey we can all go on to save the planet and improve our lives. This rollercoaster structure of contrasting emotions not only makes the book a gripping read, but more importantly, it provides hope and invites people to play their part in collectively influencing the future.

Within a large organisation, establishing a complete narrative will motivate your people to pursue the best course of action to achieve your goals. In turn, sharing stories of successful outcomes then helps to build the belief that ‘change is happening’.

The powerful are not always in positions of power

Having influencers or change champions who are prepared to ‘spread the word’ is essential to any cause. Working not from traditional positions of leadership, they have the ability to unite people because as they have already gained the trust of their followers or peers.

Those campaigning for action against climate change are predominantly not those in traditional positions of power. Accessible across a variety of platforms, social media, blogs or podcasts, these individuals convey a notion of real possibility to their audience. For example, whether or not you agree with the tactics and actions of Extinction Rebellion, its proponents are such a broad cross-section of society, they’ve proved highly effective in passing on their message.

Leaders have to role model change

Unlike David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg doesn’t have decades of professional broadcasting experience, but what she does have is an instinctive understanding of how she and her actions can create a story that is arguably more impactful than any words. 

As Thunberg shifted from the role of influencer to a leader in the global fight against climate change, she’s been able to influence people – not through the stories she told, but the stories she has inspired others to create. From being the teenage influencer sitting outside the House of Parliament in Stockholm with her homemade banner to the trips she made back and forth across the Atlantic by sailing boat in order to speak to world leaders without having to leave a carbon footprint, her public life is a story. Yet her story has become a metaphor for how older generations are destroying the future for the young.

As a business leader, if you too are role modelling critical behaviours within your organisation, you will create stories that inspire others to follow your example. Storytelling will always be a fundamental trait of human behaviour. Use it to your advantage and it will help to navigate your organisation through even the greatest of change journeys.

Why change fails: our top ten

It has widely been reported that 70 per cent of change programmes fail. In a world in which technology, business and market demands are changing faster than ever, this is unacceptable.

A business that is unable to evolve because it’s too deeply entrenched in its existing processes, systems and behaviours may find itself ill-equipped to manage the demands of the future.

We’ve had the privilege of advising leaders from over 180 major organisations around the world. As a result, we’ve recognised a number of patterns that begin to explain why change can be so difficult. Explore them in full by downloading our ebook today.

Overcoming key leadership challenges in 2021

The number of new opportunities and challenges created by the pandemic shows no sign of dwindling. Businesses that can respond to new demands on their markets will always be best equipped to navigate risks and remain sustainable in the long term. 

The COVID crisis has fundamentally changed many aspects of our lives, not at least how we work, and successful business leaders will adjust to these seismic societal shifts by staying nimble, flexible and creatively future-proofing their organisations.

In our ‘Stories from the C-suite’ series, we talk to leaders, who we believe are expert storytellers, about the challenges of leading through change and how they will approach the next stages in their journey.

Each webinar provided valuable takeaways on how leaders can overcome both the common and more unique challenges large organisations face at this time. 

As the series takes a break during August and September, I invite you to catch up or watch back and reflect on the conversations we’ve had since the beginning of the year.

Stories from the c-suite Rabobank

WATCH: ’Future of Food’ with Will Jennings – CEO, UK at Rabobank 

Will shared how the global food crisis has come to drive Rabobank’s mission and purpose. And why storytelling and narrative are important to leaders looking to drive long-lasting change.

Stories from the Csuite CFA Institute

READ: Transformation in Asia’ with Nick Pollard – MD APAC, CFA Institute

Accompanying this webinar is a free guide outlining the skill set needed for leaders to unlock business transformation in Asia.

Stories from the C-suite AXA Health

WATCH: ’The Future of Health’ with Tracy Garrad – CEO, AXA Health

We explored how Tracy dealt with the challenges of the pandemic in an industry at the forefront of the crisis. We also discussed how the business has adapted and what healthcare will look like in the future.

Stories from the C-suite: Noble Foods

WATCH: ’Food for thought’ with Duncan Everett – CEO, Noble Foods

From a unique position of having experienced and led two different food companies during the pandemic, we were keen to hear what Duncan had learned and what he will focus on moving forward.

Stories From the Csuite - Hostelworld

WATCH: Navigating Crisis’ with Gary Morrison – CEO, Hostelworld

Arguably one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, the travel industry has been dealt consistent blows with no respite. We discussed with Gary, a veteran of digital travel companies, what Hostelworld did to ensure that it had a roadmap to recovery, and how it plans to thrive when normal travel patterns resume.

Stories from the C-suite Hays

WATCH: ’Talking Talent’ with Alistair Cox – CEO, Hays plc

Forces of change are sweeping across the recruitment industry, and we wanted to know how Alistair is navigating this tumultuous but exciting landscape. He also shared plenty of insights on what the future of recruitment might look like.

Stories from the C-suite: Pheonix Group

WATCH: ’Facing The Crisis’ with Andy Briggs – CEO, Phoenix Group

He was a new CEO, taking up the role during the early stages of the pandemic – we wanted to know how Andy was able to navigate Phoenix Group, the UK’s largest long-term savings and retirement business, through the toughest of times.

Follow our LinkedIn page or sign-up to our newsletter for notifications about future ‘Stories from the C-Suite’ webinars. If you have any suggestions of leaders you would like to hear from or ideas on topics you would like us to cover – we would also love to hear from you. Please email us: connect@thestorytellers.com

It’s time to change the narrative

Oh, 2020: the year in which ‘unprecedented timesbecame our national catchphrase. As we pick up the pieces from the past year and look to the uncertain terrain of 2021, there’s no escaping the dominant narrative that will govern our memory of the last twelve months.

But here at The Storytellers we know that building belief in change is the first step to a better future; and that belief-building starts with stories of positive change.

So in defiance of the bad and in celebration of the good, here are three wonderful stories from the past year that fill us with hope for the next:

Captain Sir Tom Moore, the 99-year-old army veteran who pledged to walk 100 lengths of his garden to raise money for the NHS, became an international sensation raising over £13m. His story, in the depths of the pandemic and the first lockdown, spread hope and positivity in a time when both were really needed.

Scientists worked together to deliver a vaccine in record-breaking time. Almost 200 vaccines have been put into development, showing the power of collective action in a crisis. A crisis can sometimes bring out the best in people, uniting them behind a common cause to work out a solution together.  

The US saw Kamala Harris voted in as vice-president in November. Breaking gender and racial boundaries, and inspiring hope for women across the world. Once elected, she said: “While I may be the first woman in this office. I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

We are always looking out for positive stories of change, and we have heard no shortage of them coming out of the organisations we work with during 2020. We saw organisations dramatically accelerate aspects of their transformation in months rather than years. We watched as employees came together as we launched our new virtual story-driven events, reaching 100 per cent more employees than we could do before. We saw one company achieve its first year of growth since 2008.  

This was the year when we came together to stay positive. We clapped on our balconies and in our gardens for the NHS. We tried out new things and became teachers for our children. We overcame obstacles and learnt to balance working from home. Pollution improved, we got healthier and spent more time outdoors appreciating nature. We met on Zoom and Teams (and we’re still constantly on mute). Perhaps most importantly, we stayed connected whilst apart. 

At The Storytellers, we celebrate the stories that move more people to do great things, however big or small.

What story will you tell in 2021?

Consumers are demanding action, so why are organisations only talking?

No longer are consumers and employees waiting for businesses to embrace ethical priorities. Instead they are now holding them accountable for their inaction. Recently, it was reported that 53 per cent of consumers have switched to lesser-known brands because they were sustainable, while 47 per cent have walked away from brands that disappoint on social issues. These values are shaping the workplace, with over 73 per cent of employees wanting their CEO to speak out on social and environmental issues. The Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have amplified the pressure on businesses to take action as more people become mindful of their consumption and social responsibility.

Take Oatly, a beloved milk alternative brand which prides itself on its sustainability. The brand is famed for its bold campaigns which puts its purpose at the heart of them. In 2019 they unveiled their ‘Ditch Milk’ campaign. Oatly’s Creative Director Michael Lee said, “Our message to the London Coffee Festival crowd and anyone else who might be interested in the future, is pretty simple — swap cow’s milk for oat drink and save the planet 73 per cent in CO2e.” Recently Oatly came under fire for selling shares to an association with purported links to deforestation. The business purpose and actions were at odds, and Oatly received a fierce social media backlash with some consumers boycotting the brand. Oatly is open and proud of its environmental record, so keeping this controversial decision quiet created a vacuum for consumers to believe they had broken their sustainability promise. Oatly responded by releasing a statement to explain the decision and time will tell if trust will be recovered. 

The risk of disengaging employees and customers who increasingly value companies’ contributions to society over profit is a large one. In 2016 NFL player Colin Kapernick was exiled by the league after taking the knee in protest of police brutality. Nike supported his protest against racial injustice by featuring him in bold advertising campaigns. Nike was met with customer support shown through a jump in sales. Nike has continued to feature Colin Kapernick with him becoming one of the faces for its 30th anniversary campaign. Public solidarity was soon met with criticism when Nike’s 2019 diversity record came into the spotlight, with less than 10 per cent of its vice presidents being Black. Nike’s genuine commitment for racial equality was questioned when its own internal structures didn’t match. This criticism was heightened when past and present Black Nike employees anonymously took to social media to share their experiences of racism.

Nike went from being seen as a genuine supporter to a performative ally. Nike’s CEO John Donahoe released a statement saying “We’ve stepped up our own efforts and measures of accountability in the areas of diversity, inclusion and belonging to foster an inclusive environment and attract a more diverse workforce.” He went on to pledge $40 million to “support the Black community in the US”.

A organisation’s disconnect between its purpose, messaging and actions is increasingly being scrutinised by a society which wants and expects better. One client we recently worked with placed its purpose at the heart of its narrative. The narrative echoed words of belonging and opportunities for all, yet the visuals told a very different story – not a single image of their teams included an employee from an ethnic minority background. The CEO felt the images had to remain, so the truth of its poor diversity record would awaken leadership to address the problem. The visual depicting the business’s future was replaced from a homogenous group of white males to a range of ages, gender and ethnicities. The CEO hoped the story visuals would hold the leadership team accountable, so they would feel compelled to take action and enact the narrative’s goals of building a business where everyone belonged. 

The pandemic, Climate Emergency and Black Lives Matter have put the spotlight on businesses who fail to live up to consumer values which now focus around care, equality and safety. Leaders have to accept they have a responsibility to engage with these issues to better society and protect the environment. Indeed, 64 per cent of consumers are ‘belief-driven buyers,’ meaning they will switch or boycott a brand based on its stance on these issues. The next generation is especially concerned, so in order to attract and retain talent it should be a priority. Having a story which connects and voices both ethical and strategic priorities will bring everyone on the business journey. It will ensure every decision made within the organisation is in service of keeping these urgent priorities, making the organisation relevant, respected and believed in. 

To find out more about the power of storytelling to inspire and fuel change, read and download our ebook: ‘Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change’.

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. 

Learning from lapses: using stories for change

Inspiring introspection

Companies survive and thrive when they cultivate a culture of excellence and positively improve human lives. If mistakes are made, livelihoods can be threatened, and customers short-changed. When one business directory – responsible for showcasing the services of thousands of small businesses, freelance workers, and self-employed individuals – lapsed in its commitment to accuracy, they realised that systemic change was necessary to make manifest their mission. How was this brought about? Through the unique power of storytelling to inspire introspection. 

An error emerges

When faced with redundancy, Chris Barnes – dedicated shipyard worker – sought to ensure that his redundancy payment became a catalyst for successful employment in his future. Assertive and ambitious, he immediately devoted his energies towards retraining as a plumber. 

After months of diligent study, Barnes was ready to seize the new opportunities now available to him, and decided that a sensible course of action – self-employed, but in a tight-knit community in which word-of-mouth marketing would give him a decided edge – would be to place an ad in a well-known, high-circulation business directory.

Abuzz with anticipation, he sent his details to the directory, paid the necessary fee, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

New to the profession as he was, he couldn’t help but feel surprised that weeks passed by without a single client approach. 

A couple of months later, a rather disgruntled old lady sent a strongly-worded letter to the business directory, testily telling them that a number of her fellow townspeople seemed to believe that she was a plumber. After some embarrassed placating of her complaints, and a hurried internal investigation, it emerged that a careless clerk had entered an incorrect phone number into the database from which the directory was created. This error had misdirected dozens of calls to the surprised lady, and cost Barnes thousands of pounds in work.

A new programme prioritises precision

Though this lapse wasn’t the first that the directory had experienced that year, that month, that week, or even that day, it was one of the most painful and costly. When the organization’s leaders began constructing their plans to transform the company’s processes and implement new programs, this story was crucial. Though highly embarrassing, it helped company leaders to clarify – through compelling narrative example – the sort of organization they didn’t want to be.

By foregrounding this story, they were able to impress upon all employees the key points of their new programme: attention to detail, quality control, and increased employee accountability – all with a recognition that better processes promoted better lives for their customers. 

They also sought to ensure that the plumber’s story with them ended a little better than it began. As part of a cross-company commitment to ensure that all mistakes were remedied, he was offered a free yearlong advertisement. During the next year, business flourished for both the grateful recipient and the business directory, with employees newly mindful of the importance of attention to detail – and of the unique power of stories to transform company culture.

To discover how storytelling can transform your business, download our e-book, Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change.