Category: Culture

Why activating your people is critical for successful M&A

Organisations pursue mergers or acquisitions for a variety of reasons: entry into new markets, plays for innovation or new talent, and customer-base expansion to name a few. In the current turbulent environment, we see that many deals are focused on productivity rather than pure financial objectives. With that core objective in mind, the ability to rapidly activate the optimisation strategy is critical to M&A value creation.

Whatever their nature, our research with Mergermarket confirms that mergers and acquisitions are notoriously difficult to execute effectively. One of the common reasons for failure is that leaders underestimate the importance of – and focus too little on — the people and culture factors in the equation. This is even more heightened when the purpose is to achieve operating synergies, which can be put at risk through underperformance and talent attrition because employees are unclear on the role they play, fearful of change and in turn become demotivated, quietly quit or loudly leave.

Featuring insights from senior M&A executives at major global blue chips around the world, our eBook shares findings gathered through a survey of 100 senior executives.


  • Why people and culture matter in M&A, and what happens when they are neglected
  • How to build cultural alignment and engagement
  • Why resetting the narrative is key and insight into the story-driven methodology The Storytellers has successfully employed to activate employees in post-merger integration strategies

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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

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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.

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:

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. 

Culture change: how to transform your culture during a crisis

2020 was a year of rapid and continuous change. Such explosive change for organisations is truly unprecedented, and having an existing robust company culture has been necessary for businesses not just to stay rooted, but to grow in this challenging environment. 

With the transition to remote working at the outset of the pandemic, a major fear was that company culture would be difficult to sustain. How could businesses maintain something so dependent on day-to-day interactions such as in-person meetings, socialising and chance encounters in the office virtually? Culture is something so intangible and abstract that it is known for being ‘what takes place when managers leave the room’. How can leaders role model culture through Zoom? And amidst the continuing whirlwind of change taking place in the world around us, how can companies continue to transform, adapt and innovate?

Inevitably, the shift from the office to home-based working has transformed behaviours, as culture is made up of workplace relationships and interactions. Companies are now considering serious questions such as how they can foster a global mindset in a digitally-connected world. There is also a strong focus on retaining culture when the physical environment of the office, water cooler chats and casual conversations have been taken away. Technology alone cannot shape culture and it still needs to be defined and articulated. 

In fast-moving global markets, culture is the biggest determiner of sustainable advantage. It determines agility, collaboration, how fast you can innovate and how hard you can drive towards a collective goal. By communicating and showing how your culture still exists and is able to thrive in a socially distanced, remote working world, you can ensure it stays strong throughout the pandemic and beyond. 

Complete the form on this page to download our latest ebook, and find out how you can use storytelling to shift behaviours and deliver long-lasting, sustainable change in your organisation today. 

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’.

Storytelling your way to resilient teams and better business

A healthy business starts with healthy employees. Increasingly in the UK – where over half of all work absences in the UK are now due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression (HSE, 2018) – leaders know that healthy minds equal healthy balance sheets. But as we hear often from our clients, it’s a complex and confounding issue that many organisations lack the resource to adequately tackle.

At The Storytellers, we believe there is a simpler way to healthy, happy teams.  

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves determine the luck we have in our life. That was the finding of Professor Richard Wiseman in the early millennium after a decade of study into the felicitous and less-felicitous trajectories of various individuals. In so doing, Wiseman pioneered the first application of science to the field of personal development – an approach which has since spawned a growing global industry of professional and personal neuroscience that boasts varying levels of complexity and effectiveness.

Luck, he discovered, is a mindset. This mindset determines the ‘attentional spotlight’ we turn on the world. People who see themselves as unlucky live life in a state of high anxiety. When we feel anxious, we narrow our attentional spotlight, and we miss the wider opportunities, possibilities and connections available to us. Lucky people, armed with a larger attentional spotlight, as well as higher optimism, confidence and openness to the unknown, are quick to spot these opportunities, and confident enough to act on them. Luck, Wiseman stresses, is not the same as chance. No neuroscience will help you win big at the Casino. But luck – in terms of professional success and personal contentment – is largely up to us. By interpreting the world in a positive, ‘lucky’ light, we are creating a virtuous circle in our own lives.

Wiseman was one of the first to understand that by changing people’s mindset, you can give them the tools to change their outcomes. In today’s volatile context, his insights offer nothing less than the key to a resilience mindset – something we spend a great of time helping our clients cultivate in their teams. At its heart, this mindset comes down to story.  ‘It’s the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves’, says Wiseman, ‘that really make the difference’. What’s more astonishing about the human mind, he continues, is that we have the power to tell ourselves different stories. ‘And by doing this, we can have a real impact on our happiness and success.’

At The Storytellers, these insights are core to our own approach. We know that humans are storytelling animals, hardwired to make sense of ourselves and the world through narrative. We know that mindset is the foundation of individual success, and that the narratives we form about ourselves are the most powerful determiner of how capable, open and optimistic we feel in the face of change and challenge – and therefore how resilient we are in today’s VUCA world. We know that resilient employees are the change makers and innovators of any organisation – which makes them the only true source of competitive advantage in today’s world.

We also know that these personal stories don’t occur through chance. They’re shaped by the cultural stories we experience throughout our lifetimes: the examples of success and failure from peers and role-models that help us form belief or negativity about our own outcomes.  That’s why, alongside the compelling business-wide narratives we work with our clients to craft, we help leaders build resilient cultures with positive storytelling at their heart – broadening everyone’s attentional spotlight by celebrating attainable stories of success, impact and innovation.

These little stories have big impact – from reversing resignations, inspiring some pretty extraordinary acts of customer care, and fuelling innovation with huge cost savings (defect parts per million in one factory fell 73% within three months following our programme). 

Looking forward, as mental health and wellbeing become ever more pressing issues in the workforce, Wiseman’s insights – and, we modestly believe, our own approach – continue to bear fruit for enlightened organisations looking for fresh ways to inspire, restore and fortify teams grappling with ever more uncertain and dynamic contexts.

A hidden identity crisis: the problem with outsourcing

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will tell you that a sense of belonging is an important factor in any human’s life. Given that many of us spend most of our daily lives at work, this need for belonging can be played out in the corporate world too: a strong, positive culture of inclusion, empowerment and involvement, a sense of wellbeing and work/life balance, trust, active engagement in the strategy and vision of a business, strong leadership, aligning one’s own values with and living those of one’s employer, and having a clear organisational ethos or purpose all contribute to one’s happiness in the workplace.

But what happens when an employee finds themselves in a situation where they identify more with their customer’s purpose and values than that of their actual employer? Take support service organisations or large B2B consultancies, where employees are outsourced into their customer’s organisation, often for months or years. In many cases, their real employer’s presence in their lives may largely only be apparent by the logo found on their payslip, while they are immersed on a daily basis in the activities and environment of their customer, exposed to their culture, values and messaging on a constant basis – not that of their employer. Their social interactions, sense of identity and belonging will almost certainly lie with their customer’s organisation. Franchised organisations can also be challenged with this. For example, a large car dealer network might include a number of businesses which deal exclusively with a one or two OEMs. Whose values do they uphold? That of their parent company or those of the brand they are representing? The same can be said of some call centre operations, where employees are representing multiple customers/brands. How do they align their actions and behaviours with the demands of different customers, who need their customer-facing representatives to act and behave according to their own organisational values and culture?

This is a dilemma that thousands of people in the workplace are facing. In a B2B world, from an employer’s point-of-view, their tenure of contract with a customer will rely on their outsourced employees delivering excellent customer service to uphold their corporate reputation and secure ongoing business. They may well have spent thousands on the recruitment, training and development of those employees, and certainly won’t want the expense of them jumping ship. They need their employees to feel a sense of loyalty, belonging, pride and purpose in their parent organisation, aligned to their values and culture – a sense of belonging – even if their emotional investment in time, energy and engagement lies within their customers’ organisation on a daily basis.

These issues present serious challenges to organisations when it comes to creating a strong brand culture, and indeed to delivering a better customer experience. This requires a slightly different and more detailed approach:

  • Firstly, the need for an overarching strategic narrative is greater than ever in this instance. It’s so important for employees to have that shorthand view of the organisation’s vision, mission and values, especially where there are competing ideas to deal with. It can also become an important vehicle to engender a sense of pride and purpose in the organisation, which will ultimately lead to a better quality of delivery.
  • Secondly, it’s even more important to conduct research that reveals the prevailing mood in the organisation, the different personas that exist, and the experience that they live. Navigating this kind of complexity requires a more astute understanding of the different characters who are on the front line, in order to properly identify where the points of ambiguity are, and who they apply to.
  • Finally, and where there are competing values to uphold, it’s so important to reduce that complexity to individual instances rather than a top-level approach. Franchise and outsourcing models entail a rich variety of interactions with many different stakeholders – understanding when to live which brand values has to be specific. Illustrative stories about colleagues are incredibly helpful in this instance too, to give genuine, applicable examples to employees.

Creating an atmosphere of understanding and trust is particularly crucial in such business models. A strategic narrative is always useful in setting a clear vision of the journey that a business on. But in this case, it is even more important to get specific: about the personas in your organisation, the times where they face ambiguity, and their positive experiences of approaching given situations correctly.