Category: Employee Engagement

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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Cultivating psychological safety through storytelling

A psychologically safe work environment is one where individuals and teams feel able to speak up, challenge the status quo and take calculated risks. Amy Edmondson, the Harvard professor who coined the term, defines it as “a shared belief that an environment is safe for interpersonal risk.”

As Professor Edmondson also points out, this is not about making it a comfortable or easy working environment, it’s about creating a climate where colleagues feel able to critically question the ideas and actions of their peers and leaders – enabling diversity of thought and innovation.

How does psychological safety improve performance?

In a psychologically safe environment, colleagues have permission to take risks, the confidence to critically question, and the freedom to innovate without fear of failure. This encourages inspiration and action.

The case for diverse teams (in all its forms) has been proven time and again. Yet, to harness the diverse perspectives and strengths of a team, everyone must feel respected and empowered. There is no point in having a visibly or cognitively diverse team if the same voices are aired again and again when it comes to key decision making. To establish and reap the benefits of a truly inclusive and diverse team, psychologically safety is essential.

Why leaders should address this fast

While sceptics may interpret this school of thought as encouraging failure without accountability, Mathew Syed’s Black Box Thinking, released in 2015, reminds us that by allowing your teams to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them without judgment, everyone can benefit from those lessons learned and avoid repeating the same mistake.

Psychologically safe environments don’t actively seek failure – instead, they allow teams, organisations, and even entire industries to learn faster. Syed makes the comparison between blame culture in the NHS vs. the critical analysis of errors within the aviation industry. In aviation, there is a commitment to learning from mistakes that enables the industry to collectively take steps to improve its practice. However, the presence of a blame culture and lack of psychological safety within the UK healthcare sector, for example, means that mistakes can take longer to unearth and even longer to learn from – increasing the inevitability that these mistakes are repeated.

In a business world where change is continuous and pace is essential, leaders need to empower their teams to work more autonomously. This is not a ‘nice to have’. If teams don’t feel empowered to make decisions and learn from them quickly, organisations risk being left behind the competition, and potentially, their business becoming irrelevant.

How a storytelling culture creates psychologically safe environments:

Stories help us to make meaning of the world and people around us – it’s an instinctive and natural way to connect with other humans.

In hybrid and remote working environments, creating an innate sense of psychological safety is even harder to achieve as you can’t rely on ad-hoc water cooler moments to connect with colleagues. Developing a storytelling culture provides a solution to this by equipping leaders with a simple and effective way to develop emotional connections with their teams (even through a screen) which in turn cultivates a psychologically safe environment.

We work with clients to implement organisation-wide storytelling cultures to empower teams so that colleagues across the business are equipped with the means and fora to share stories during team calls, town halls, 1:1s, key events and online social work platforms. This commitment to being open and forthcoming with stories, in turn, reduces a climate of fear and fosters a sense of authenticity and innovation.

With one large organisation we recently supported, we helped their leadership team to challenge the dominant narrative that governed the relationship between managers and employees. This ‘background’ narrative had traditionally dictated the working environment where the manager provides instructions, and the employees’ role was simply to deliver as they were told. To overcome this, the new organisational story we created with them articulated both the company’s vision and the role they wanted employees to play in achieving it. We also put in place interventions and practices to embed a storytelling culture throughout the organisation. This shift in the culture of the company helped employees to feel more empowered to contribute and be active players in the organisation’s direction rather than passive participants. 

When team leaders — and others — practice genuine inquiry that draws out others’ ideas, listening thoughtfully to what they hear in response, psychological safety in the team grows. The need for inquiry is heightened in diverse teams because of the number and variety of perspectives represented.” Harvard Business Review 

By sharing stories of failure and success, leaders send out a strong message to their teams that value is placed on the willingness to act and drive teams forward over and above a pursuit of perfection or to maintain the status quo. At a deeper level, they place value on the need for new ideas and diverse perspectives – creating a truly inclusive environment that allows individuals to thrive and bring their unique solutions to the table without judgement.

How storytelling will re-energise your EVP

The dimensions of work have changed rapidly in recent years, with many factors, including digital transformation, hybrid working and ‘The Great Resignation,’ leading to a renewed strategic focus on retention and recruitment within organisations worldwide. As a result, attention has turned towards the platform on which organisations can build their employer brand and experience – the Employee Value proposition (EVP).

93 per cent of the organisations we are currently engaging with are revisiting their EVP. What we’re seeing is an EVP evolution. To create a standout EVP, a comprehensive list of core components will no longer cut it. If you want to attract the best people, you must also emotionally connect them to your business. And even then, if this proposition doesn’t measure up to the reality of your employer brand, great people – those with the talent and skillsets you don’t want to lose – will quickly become disillusioned and their heads turned elsewhere.

With experience delivering change and transformation programmes for over 200 large and complex organisations, we believe storytelling can play a critical part in re-energising your EVP to elevate your employer brand and experience.

Featuring insights from members of The Storytellers team, this eBook explores how storytelling can be harnessed to re-energise your EVP and ensure that the promise you make to your people is grounded in reality.

Download the eBook to explore:

  • Why your leadership team should be focusing on the effectiveness of your organisation’s EVP
  • How narrative can be used to help align and elevate your proposition
  • How stories can be harnessed to build belief in your EVP

Tackling employee disengagement with a compelling narrative

Workplace satisfaction, or lack of it, has always been a common topic of conversation within organisations around the world – so how does the story you tell as an organisation impact this?

Last year, workforce wellbeing reached a tipping point, with countless studies dubbing an influx of unhappy employees as the perpetrator of what fast became known as ‘The Great Resignation‘ of 2021.

The reasons behind this growing wave of unhappiness cannot be attributed to one factor alone, as an international study by Firstup has shown. Drawing on the experiences of over 23,000 employees from a vast range of organisations globally, it revealed that just 16 per cent felt that their employer need make no changes to improve their employee experience, and a mere 12 per cent felt that their organisation had sufficient boundaries in place to safeguard their work-life balance.

Perhaps most striking of all, over half of employees admitted that they did not feel valued in their role or understood how their role contributes to their organisation’s objectives. This was a point I was keen to focus on when invited by Firstup to take part in a panel discussion held to explore the reasons behind this research in more depth. For me, the statistic highlights why it’s so vital that leadership teams look very carefully at the way they are engaging their people at this time – especially those exploring and implementing new ways of working in this period of pandemic recovery.

In our experience of supporting large and complex organisations through change, businesses struggle to evolve when their people are no longer aligned behind a common purpose, identity, goal and mission – yet this can be overcome with a strong, compelling narrative.  

The power of true alignment 

Leadership teams need to consider, both collectively and as individuals, how aligned they really are around every single element of the journey they are leading the business on.

As a business leader, ask yourself these two key questions:

  • Are you inspiring your people about the journey the organisation is on?
  • As a leadership team are you collectively and individually role-modelling critical behaviours within your organisation?

Compelling context

Having a sense of alignment allows leaders to be influential, visible and really bring their change journey to life in a compelling, human way for all employees. In times of uncertainty and change, humans crave compelling context, transparency and something we can tether ourselves to – all things an aligned narrative supports. 

True connection

Once the narrative is in place, it allows everyone within an organisation from boardroom to shop floor to begin to make both a rational and emotional connection to the change journey they are on. From purpose to strategy to behaviours (and everything in between), it enables individuals to ask themselves and understand ‘what’s my role?’ And, ‘why am I valued in moving this journey forward?’ 

It also allows leaders to build ownership of the strategy to unlock engagement. When everyone, not just the c-suite, understands their role within the bigger picture of their organisation, and feels they can influence what happens next, this enables pace, agility, performance, and opportunity – all the things executive teams crave. It takes bravery for the executive team to share responsibly in this way, but middle managers too can play a crucial role in keeping the momentum by ensuring individuals continue to feel empowered and receive individual recognition for their work.

Despite some stark headlines emerging from this research, there are grounds for optimism and opportunity. Although workplace dissatisfaction appears rife, what leaders should be focusing on is that so too are ideas about how to improve employee experience – if your organisation has a narrative to harness them.

How storytelling can inspire your people to take initiative and ownership over their roles

The workforce challenge in 2022 is significant, organisations are dealing with the aftermath of ‘The Great Resignation’, sustained remote working, and a competitive recruitment market. Leaders need to provide meaningful autonomy to employees, whilst giving their teams a clear direction.

Moving leadership away from the parent-child dynamic

Prior to the pandemic, Gen Z had just entered the workforce. A key characteristic of this demographic has been the desire for increased autonomy at work – mirroring a trend set by their millennial predecessors. In 2019, with the rise of portfolio, skills-based careers, organisations began to reckon with this demand from younger generations that were disillusioned by jobs for life and traditional hierarchical structures. Incoming cohorts sought rewarding and fulfilling professional experiences that aligned with their personal values.

Key statistics:

  • According to a Gallup study on the American workforce, 42% of millennials would change to a job if they were able to work independently on a project of their choosing.
  • In 2021, over 40% of the global workforce were considering leaving their job.

Fast forward two years, and the pandemic has led many of us, regardless of age, to evaluate what work means and the purpose we derive from it – as demonstrated by ‘The Great Resignation’ last summer.

This increased desire for autonomy and purpose-driven work has extended across generations. As remote working becomes entrenched into the world of work, employees are demanding more than flexibility and office perks, they want autonomy3.

What this means for organisations

In a competitive recruitment market and a new world of remote-working –where hands-on micromanagement approaches are proving near impossible to sustain – leaders need to adapt at pace to provide autonomy.

Going beyond providing flexible working hours or locations, they must also ensure the culture within their organisation prioritises employee initiative. This means leading by example to remove over-bearing management and creating an environment that allows employees to take ownership over their roles and makes people feel trusted.

Among our clients, we have seen that some leaders are ready to meet this need and are keen to provide autonomy to their employees. They want to build confidence in their workforce to adopt a more agile mindset that encourages calculated risks so that employees can take ownership of their roles with more responsibility and initiative to fulfil their roles with independence.

The key challenge for leaders

The role of the leader is to provide colleagues with a clear sense of direction and purpose within the organisation without being too prescriptive around outputs and how they individually fulfil this purpose. So how do leaders provide the autonomy and ownership that employees desire, whilst ensuring that all colleagues are working towards a common purpose?

Leaders need to ensure employees understand the purpose, values and culture of the company, and be clear on what the vision of success looks like so that employees can take ownership of that vision within their individual roles. This is something that has been recognised by the World Economic Forum – it proposes that you cannot provide autonomy without a clear purpose: “While the new generations crave expanded notions of autonomy, organizations cannot simply extend it without a mechanism for alignment. By clearly articulating and embedding the organizational purpose and the principles that uphold it, employees will be empowered with guardrails to make decisions at any level.”

How leaders begin to address this challenge:

  • Define your overarching organisational narrative and ambition: are your teams clear and inspired by the journey the organisation is on?
  • Develop a clear story about what your company stands for and its purpose: do colleagues have an accessible values framework that is aligned to your narrative? 
  • Provide colleagues with the confidence to contribute to the narrative. Highlight that their ideas and passion will dictate if, how and when the organisation will reach its desired destination: how can you start to encourage colleagues to actively think about their role within this narrative?

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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Make the connection: top tips for running a virtual event

We know that connecting people to the journey your business is on is more critical now than ever before. Millions of employees are suddenly working in ways that are disconnected from the life they know and are facing incredible uncertainty and worry that will affect their wellbeing and ability to perform. At times like this, people want to feel like they are contributing to a higher purpose and feel a shared sense of belief in it. People are craving the clarity of what the business journey means to them. 

Pre COVID-19, one way of creating this connection was through large group events for leaders, or in some cases, the whole organisation. We pride ourselves on designing and producing high-quality, inspiring events that become a defining moment in our client’s story. Yet it’s not just face-to-face events that we have become experts at delivering: creative, dynamic virtual events run on digital platforms have been part of our offer for years. Now that more and more people have been tasked with how to run such an intervention, now is the time that we can offer our expertise.

For those used to the power of a beautifully-run event, complete with music, staging, lights, great content, interactive breakouts and all of the bells and whistles that make it spine-tingling and utterly memorable, how do we capture the magic of these events and translate this experience digitally? How do we create a real impact in virtual spaces, where despite the proximity of our colleagues on screen, we feel disconnected?

This week we designed and produced our own Storytellers’ event – to connect our colleagues to the latest episode of our own story, in kitchens and offices from Aberdeen to Essex! Here are seven top tips that we’d like to share:

  1. Break the event into bitesize chunks: at a face-to-face ‘connection’ event one day often feels too short. However, this does not translate virtually, even if the content is the same. Sitting and staring at a bright screen can become exhausting and people can lose interest. Spacing the event into bitesize chunks across multiple days led to a greater, high-impact experience. We chose 60-75 minute daily sessions, and of course our narrative thread tied each session together into one meaningful experience. 
  2. Use the time efficiently by sharing pre-session content: we asked each session owner to make a short introductory film introducing their section of the story, shared across the business the day before it was to be presented. It ensured that people had a chance to absorb the content in advance, leading to the majority of the sessions being filled with meaningful conversations and reflections. Furthermore, because we had captured the key messages on film, we now have a suite of high-quality assets that we can reuse for induction and training.
  3. Don’t skip on the detail: it’s easy to think that a virtual event requires less planning than a physical one. Don’t be led into thinking we are simply recreating the Zoom quiz nights we’ve all be enjoying in isolation! The reality is quite the opposite.  At a physical event there is so much interaction that happens naturally, whether it’s the informal table conversations, the networking or breakout exercises. This all needs pre-planning and huge attention to detail if you want to re-create memorable shared moments, given the fact that both the audience and production team are working apart.
  4. Try different platforms and ways of communicating: Zoom, Teams, BlueJeans etc. all have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to large-scale interactions. We ended up using them all (on different days) and whilst this may not be practical for most companies, it did help to keep the sessions fresh and different. Each platform has its own communication tools, from breakout rooms and chats to whiteboards and shared documents. We supplemented these with word-clouds and instant polls to create a rich variety of interactions.
  5. Creative exercises worked really well: in the past we’ve enjoyed designing creative ways of engaging audiences in key aspects of their story and bringing in moments of skills-building – from ‘values wheels’ to ‘elevator stories’. We replicated a number of these at our event and found they provided some of the highlights of the week. Unlike a live event, there is nothing stopping attendees from putting themselves on mute, turning off their camera and making a cup of tea whilst you are delivering a business-critical message! The key is to keep the agenda interactive and fun.
  6. Make the magic happen: we know from the feedback of live events that the look and feel of the production plays a critical role in creating the WOW factor, and reinforces the message of the importance of the occasion. So don’t lose this when it comes to a virtual event. It needs to be seamless, dynamic and professional – a really memorable experience with rich content that needs to land and stick with real impact. Think about the look and feel of the slides, the exercise tools, the films and animations. This requires some ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ and dedicated design time, but the impact will be worth it. This also applies to the agenda. How can you make the event feel like an occasion and not just another virtual meeting? In our own session we brought in a surprise guest – a past client who spoke about the impact we had on her organisation. This became a real highlight of the event, and even caused a few colleagues to tear up! 
  7. Ensure you have the right support team: there may not be lights, sound and staging to deal with, but the complexity of producing a virtual event is, if anything, more challenging than a live one (especially given that the production team, like the audience, may well be spread across the country). Simultaneously facilitating, sharing slides, operating polls, reviewing chats, sending teams to breakout rooms, managing participants etc. all requires a competent and well-rehearsed production team. In many ways, as some of the team commented, it took them back to the days of producing live TV.

This is a time when clarity, focus, a sense of belonging and the need to energise and galvanise now-fragmented teams is needed more than ever. Now is not the time to cancel your meetings, but to lean into the virtual world that offers so many amazing technologies that can make a large-scale meeting a truly wonderful experience. Don’t be overwhelmed by the technology or push back any key milestones in your calendar for fear of losing impact. Make the connection with your team when they need it most. It really does work.

Turning a business’s fortunes on its head: delivering meaningful change through stories

The challenge

Standards at one packaging business were already highly competitive. But the new CEO believed he could raise them even further. His big ambition was to improve operational performance at manufacturing sites in order to secure new partnerships and achieve a higher return on capital. But for that to work, everyone had to be invested in his vision.

The programme

That’s where we came in. We created OWNIT!, a company-wide programme of strategy engagement and operational improvement.

Working with the Executive Committee, we crafted a narrative that laid out in clear terms what the business’ ambitions were, aka the OWNIT! Story. This offered a structure that fed through to events, workshops and toolkits. It motivated managers and teams, and showed them how each individual can play their part. In many cases, that meant local initiatives encouraging people to come up with meaningful solutions to operational problems. The results were genuinely extraordinary. At the Bristol plant alone, defective parts per million dropped from 3,200 to an incredible 500 in just four months.

Stories were shared via a Champions’ network, connecting people to the wider narrative through their individual experiences. 

One such story told was of two operators who worked on the box line. For years, the boxes had been fed into the machine lengthways. But these two women saw a way to boost efficiency. By standing the boxes upright, twice as many could be fed through the machine, transforming productivity. This simple story showed the role each team member can play. It showed how every individual can be part of, and connect to, the broader narrative of raising standards.

The impact

Defect levels at the Bristol plant reduced by 73% in three months. Higher standards ultimately led to the acquisition of global customers such as Amazon, as well as a 460% increase in share price. In other words, our programme achieved exactly what it set out to do.

And as well as engaging 95% of employees, OWNIT! became the internal identity for cultural improvement. It allowed us to create a culture of shared ownership. One machine operator said, “OWNIT! dramatically changed my life and the lives of people around me.” 

Our programme had impact because it tapped into the experiences of people like him, connecting them to the wider narrative through the power of stories and moving them to do great things. To discover how storytelling can transform your business, download our e-book, Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change

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!