Category: Strategic Narrative

What makes a great story: #3 A call to action

No story is complete without a call to action, where the protagonist is compelled to take action, to set out on a journey to resolve a challenge or change a particular situation. This response is the catalyst for change, for resolution, for transformation. Without it, our hero (ourselves, in a business story) cannot find the meaning or purpose which we humans crave. Life would just drift on, the status quo unchanged. Quite boring really. Nothing to see here.

Look at what Sir David Attenborough has achieved. His meta story – his emotive, urgent call to change our behaviours to save the planet – has sparked a phenomenal response where we have been compelled to take action, putting pressure too on big business and governments to do the same. Whether recycling, moving to electric cars, planting wild flowers and trees or picking up litter, these small actions help us to feel that we are playing our part in tackling an existential threat, however small that part might feel. They bring us meaning and purpose in a worldwide movement of intent to make the world a safer, better place for generations to come. There is still a massive urgency, and obviously much, much more to do (don’t get me started on the issue of net zero goals), but chapeau to Sir David who has done so much to bring us awareness and a sense of duty to do our bit.

In business, a great strategic narrative has the same call to action – an honest, credible and transparent plea for active engagement and support, which is rooted in reality and links both the challenge the organisation is facing, what we need to do differently or better, and what success will look like if we meet and overcome that challenge together. Conversely, a poor internal narrative is one which simply talks about our strengths, our purpose, what we do for our customers and what a great place it is to work: a rosy picture of success that won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable enough to get out of their seat to do something different.

People need to feel valued – that they are playing their part in a bigger story of change and transformation. Leaders need to initiate conversations where their teams can proactively come up with ideas for different or better ways of working, that they are playing out their heroism rather than being victims of change. A rallying cry, a call to arms – that sense of being part of a movement that will bring a greater good – is tremendously motivating. It’s what engages and energises us, and brings us meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging. Together we can overcome the threat and conquer the world. Well, make a start, anyway.

What makes a great story: #2 Being part of something bigger than ourselves

My last post on what makes a great story talked about the need for an element of struggle and endeavour. The next critical success factor focuses on the human need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

Humans are social, tribal beings. Being a member of a club, sports team, religion, political party, or supporting a movement of any kind not only helps define and reinforce our identity and sense of belonging, but gives us a purpose – something we can contribute to along with others for a greater good.

We often use the ‘NASA’ story as an example. The story goes that J F Kennedy was visiting NASA, and asked a cleaner what he did there. “I’m here to help put a man on the moon” was the answer. He clearly believed that the part he played in achieving the bigger mission was important, albeit small. Similarly, an Olympic athlete is part of a team who, behind the scenes, all contribute to his or her success – and that team plays a bigger, patriotic role in the wider Olympic movement.

In business, we work in teams, where everyone needs to feel that they play a part in a collective effort to realise an organisation’s mission and vision. They need to feel valued – that they matter, that they belong, that what they do counts. They need to feel that they’re heroes, however small the part they play. Through team dialogue, listening and encouraging ideas for new and better ways of working, leaders can and must nurture this feeling of belonging, personal contribution and ownership.

Your strategic or change narrative should act as a framework within which people can play out their small acts of heroism. And telling stories of success and achievement which clearly link back to the narrative will reinforce progress, build belief and encourage others to follow. With a clear call to arms, your strategic narrative will sit at the heart of this movement of change – a symbol of hope, ambition and commitment to a brighter future.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Fostering effective collaboration

Transformation pain point no. 42

We are often called in to support significant transformations at the point when newly formed teams are established. A critical challenge (probably no 42 in a long list!) is to ensure effective collaboration among the group. As people – often from different units across the organisation – come together to drive the transformation agenda, integrating diverse skill sets and personalities can become a significant pain point.

Common challenges:

Siloed mindsets: Team members may remain fixated on their individual roles and fail to grasp the interconnectedness of their work with that of other team members.

Cultural barriers: People from different backgrounds may face challenges in understanding and accepting each other’s work methodologies and communication styles.

Resistance to change: Employees may show resistance to adapting to different work practices, hindering the progress of the transformation project.

How storytelling fosters collaboration

Storytelling is an ancient art form deeply embedded in human culture that possesses a unique ability to evoke emotional responses and establish profound connections.  The glue that binds individuals together isn’t just the alignment of goals and objectives, but the collective narrative that shapes their shared journey and nurtures a sense of identity within the team.

Key storytelling tools:

  • Create a shared vision for the transformation objectives – a clear reason why this is happening and sense of purpose that gives everyone a reason to care.
  • Involve perspectives from the team to ensure the story is authentic and relatable for all. When every team member’s narrative is valued and acknowledged, a sense of belonging permeates the group, encouraging active participation and a willingness to contribute towards shared objectives.
  • Celebrate what people are already proud of at the outset, building a sense of worth that necessary changes are building on previous contributions.
  • Acknowledge the challenges the team needs to overcome together – by facing a common jeopardy a sense of collective endeavour is quickly built.
  • Use the story as a vehicle to empower individuals and teams to explore how they use their specific expertise and skills to innovate and contribute, and how they should change their behaviour to achieve each milestone in the project plan and deliver the shared vision.
  • Encourage the sharing of stories of success and learning amongst the team – as narratives unfold, common threads often emerge, allowing individuals to recognise shared values, aspirations, and challenges and feel recognition for their contribution to the success of the strategy.

For newly formed teams, harnessing the psychological potency of storytelling serves as a dynamic catalyst, fostering collaboration, empathy, and a shared sense of purpose, effectively becoming a vehicle for nurturing a collective identity.

As narratives unfold, common threads often emerge, allowing individuals to recognise shared values, aspirations, and challenges. Through the identification of these commonalities, people are propelled towards a unified goal, transcending their individual objectives to embrace a collective purpose. This shared purpose becomes the cornerstone upon which collaboration thrives, paving the way for enhanced productivity and cohesive teamwork.

Authentic storytelling: Building trust in a divided world

For the last few years, the world has been running at full speed, facing rising inflation and fears of a financial crisis, climate-related disasters, geopolitical wars and tensions. Now the world is exhausted, unsure and in ‘poly-crisis’, as Ipsos Mori’s 2023 Global Trends report points out.  

Deepening divisions 

When times are tough, history has taught us that a few things tend to happen: 

  • Economic optimism and prospects decrease, as personal anxieties and fears begin to rise. We become more cautious, more risk-averse and nervous about the world around us.  
  • Nationalism and localism become increasingly attractive, as the notion of ‘global citizens’ starts to blur around the edges. We raise our barriers, look within our own plot of land more than we look around it, and start thinking more of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  
  • Our belief in those who are meant to look after us decreases: the state, our established institutions, our elected representatives.  ‘If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.’  

 Unsurprisingly this is the case for our current reality, as Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer finds. According to the report: 

  • 24 out of the 28 countries surveyed are seeing all-time lows in the number of people who think their families will be better off in five years’ time 
  • The government and the media are seen as sources of misleading information, with government leaders as the most distrusted of institutional leaders 
  • A majority of people in 15 of the 26 countries surveyed agreed that their country is more divided today than in the past.  

As we balance on the tightrope of poly-crisis, our trust safety net seems to be disappearing before our very eyes. And with it, so is the glue that brings us together and helps us plaster the cracks of our differences. Despite all of this there is one institution where trust seems to be going from strength to strength: business.  

Increased expectations of business 

According to Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer, business is the only area which is seen as both competent and ethical – observing a rise in ‘ethical’ for the third year in a row.  This puts businesses in an interesting position: one where they are not just expected to deliver quality products or services, but to also step into the void left by the declining trust in other institutions. Increasingly, consumers and employees are looking to the brands they know, love and follow to take a stance and get involved: to stand up for societal issues, to partner with governments and to advocate for the truth. For those who want to leave their mark on the world and create a positive difference, this represents a great opportunity to step into the limelight…provided they have a clear, authentic narrative – a story – about who they are and what they stand for. 

A narrative for trust 

When done right, the essence of a narrative lies in its ability to summarise who an organisation is: where it came from, where it’s going and the choices it’s willing to make to get there. It speaks true to the company’s purpose and values and outlines what most matters for its people. When applied right, it doesn’t just fill in gaps and help to build connections, it also builds trust. It goes beyond the words we share. It can be an incredible tool to help organisations rise to the expectations consumers and employees have set out in the Edelman Trust Barometer.  

Why? Because a business with a strong compelling narrative knows who it is. It knows what it stands for. It is better equipped to not just navigate, but also address societal challenges because it is clear on the ones which matter most. It’s probably already working on solving some of them because they’re intrinsically linked with what they ultimately want to achieve. An organisation’s narrative serves as its golden compass: it helps leaders and CEOs navigate the complexities of a polarised world by guiding their decisions and actions towards the areas which most ring true. This helps businesses not only establish a strong sense of purpose, but also to foster a sense of unity and trust, both internally and externally. 

And while we can say ‘story’ and have the sceptics amongst us think about pretty words on paper that we wheel out when we need to appease the media, I would discourage thinking about this as something which only serves brand image and public relations. Doing so would be taking lightly the true influence that a well-crafted narrative can have. A business’s story can be a powerful tool for cultivating a culture of accountability and integrity, which promotes and reinforces trust. It can be a vehicle for nurturing a shared vision and promoting collective action. It can be a unifying force in a society otherwise being torn apart by distrust and deepening divisions. By embracing transparency and clear communication, followed by the right actions, businesses and their leaders can continue to inspire trust and confidence, as they not only declare but also demonstrate a genuine commitment to  leaving the world a better place.  

So, if you are ready to step forward and pick up the gauntlet thrown by the evolving customer and employee expectations outlined in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer report, I’d encourage you to start thinking about your own narrative as you do so.  

Do you have one? Is it authentic? Does it summarise who you are and what you stand for? And most importantly, how can you take it out of its box and use it to nurture trust and promote a shared sense of purpose in an increasingly divided world? 

What makes a great story: #1 Struggle and endeavour

We’re often asked why a good strategic or change narrative can be so compelling, why its cut-through can be so dramatic and fast, and how it can shift mindsets and inspire belief and confidence in the future. What, for example, compelled employees at two companies we have partnered with, to retract their resignations once they’d heard their internal narrative? What was it about the story we crafted for a major building society that prompted a frontline IT employee to say “this story has been life-changing”?

A good story, like any Hollywood movie, involves an element of struggle and endeavour. Our flawed hero(es) (in the business world, employees) need a challenge to overcome. They need to collectively set out on a journey to resolve that challenge and, in doing so, transform. But the threat that lurks needs to be real and ever-present – it makes the story authentic, and gives us a reason to come together in response to a call to arms.

It’s no good creating a story that merely paints a rosy picture of the company and its future. That’s simply PR spin, lacking in credibility, authenticity and a recognition of what needs to change – and what we need to do to respond. It’s threat of what MIGHT happen, if we don’t take action, which triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, releasing hormones which create empathy and trust as we will our hero to succeed against the odds. Remember that rickety old boat in the movie JAWS, where Quint, Brody and Hooper set out to find the man-eating shark, complete with duh-duh-duh-duh music signalling a potential imminent attack to heighten the threat? Remember that feeling of tension? Great storytelling, even if the shark wasn’t particularly believable!.

Leaders can inspire trust and followship in their teams using the same storytelling techniques, especially if their personal leadership story has an element of struggle and endeavour (humility is a strength, not a weakness). It can create a powerful, visceral response. If you’re not championing storytelling as a leader, you may be missing a trick.

How important is it to have executive alignment?

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is about Executive team alignment. When we develop a company’s internal narrative, one of the most important outcomes is to have the Executive team speaking as one: ‘one team, one story, one voice’. If you have dissent amongst the top team, the narrative will not hold weight or have credibility as it travels through the organisation.

The first question to ask is why there’s concern about them being aligned behind the narrative in the first place. Of course, they’ll all have different perspectives; that’s normal, and our job at The Storytellers is to distill pages of conflicting views into a single, credible narrative (no mean feat, I can tell you). But there are times when universal buy-in can be difficult to achieve, and requires sensitive and careful facilitation and listening.

The uncomfortable truth is that sometimes leaders prefer to hide in muddy water, through fear of being ‘exposed’ or because of politics, where their personal agenda is threatened. This is where the power of our approach really comes into play. Giving each Executive a voice through a 1-1 session to solicit their input is an important part of the process. Facilitating a group conversation with skill, listening to objections and being able to read and respond to body language is essential to bring the potential blockers with you as the narrative develops. And encouraging boldness and honesty (the key to a believable narrative) about the weaknesses of and threats to the business – or even admission of not having ‘got it right’ or not having all the answers – will build trust, empathy and confidence in leaders. The stronger the antagonist in the story, the stronger its credibility. What’s not to like?

The power of the narrative is not simply the final output. It’s the process we take those leaders through – a process of continuous alignment alongside the iterations of the narrative. It’s how we achieve true buy-in, belief and ownership, which provides the rocket fuel needed to fire up the wider organisation. It’s also a great team-building exercise in its own right. And it’s why an artful narrative crafted by the communications department may not be as effective as one which has been co-created by the top team themselves.

We are incredibly proud of our track record in aligning Executive teams. The development of the narrative is often a cathartic process for them, even described as ‘therapy’ in many cases. Watching a once-sceptical team morph into one which is genuinely passionate about the story they’re about to share with their entire workforce is simply magic.

How CEOs can activate performance in a world of pessimism

We live in a reactive world. We’re thrown from naysay to doomsday with every news headline. Just as soon as we’d begun recovering from a global pandemic, we were told the war on talent would cripple us. When we looked above the parapet again, we found disrupted supply chains, spiralling labour costs, interest rate rises, a cost of living crisis and the grim reality of a recession. But there is a way forward. As a leader, you know that people thrive on finding solutions in adversity – as long as there is a compelling vision, driven by a purpose everyone can get behind.

Today’s CEO needs a story that will activate

You may well have your strategic response for your organisation in place already. But, in these turbulent times, a strategy isn’t enough. Today’s CEO needs a story that will activate: A clear, simple yet inspiring story of the journey your business will take over the next 12-18 months in order to survive the recession, and minimise the human impact of the downturn. The success of your organisation will depend on whether people, both internally and externally, believe your story. Start with your employees. Allow them to contribute to the journey the business is on; maximise their efficiency and productivity; empower them to take action; encourage them all to pull in the same direction. 

To activate your strategy, your people must be emotionally connected to it

Understanding strategy on a rational level – even if that strategy is compelling and well communicated – is not enough to change behaviours on its own. To make a difference, people need to understand their role in your journey, and the role the journey will play in their personal success. They need a personal, emotional connection that will influence their attitude and actions. They need to actively participate in building and owning their part in the story, continuously contributing ideas for best practice which will improve productivity.

Every day.


A purposeful, unified Story can activate your organisation 

People remember stories. Storytelling is the original and most effective way to communicate and learn. Compelling stories capture the heart and mind. They bring clarity and meaning to complex messages. Stories motivate, spark the imagination and inspire solutions. They provoke action and stimulate change. Stories help us make sense of what we do and why we do it. Stories create an emotional connection. 

By transforming your strategy, vision and values into a compelling business story brought to life in a human way which everyone can understand and relate to, you can activate extraordinary potential in the face of unprecedented pessimism.  Using a practical set of creative, flexible tools and methodologies, your leaders can be equipped to engage others in the story, inspire their teams and stimulate conversations that will lead to change and performance improvement. It is just as important to keep your journey alive by feeding it with success stories that illustrate progress and best practice, recognising the heroes of the organisation and sustaining engagement.

Harnessing the power of storytelling has worked for some of the greatest leaders and organisations in the world, some of which have faced unprecedented challenges in recent months. The result is commitment, energy and active involvement in the execution of strategic change by connecting the whole organisation to the journey the business is on. 

“…as senior leaders who have greater visibility of our strategy, it’s so easy to forget that our people don’t always have access to the same information. There is tremendous power in providing one cohesive story that shows the path to an exciting future.”

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director & General Manager, ADP UK & Ireland

Shifting the narrative to implement ESG

The role and responsibility of organisations within society is under scrutiny like never before. Being purpose-led is now a competitive advantage and the ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors are rapidly evolving the boardroom agenda.

Consumer trends have shifted rapidly towards purpose-driven brands, regulators are raising the bar, employees are more conscious of their company’s impact on the world and investors are increasingly scrutinising ESG risks and opportunities like never before.

Leaders worldwide are recognising the critical need to put ESG at the centre of their business strategy. Many have already used storytelling to help communicate their progress. Yet, at a time when organisations are regularly called out – and often very publicly – for ‘greenwashing,’ a story that simply promotes or over-exaggerates your ESG performance will not cut it.

Leaders need to be able to turn rhetoric into meaningful action – then prove it. This is possible with a unified strategic narrative that runs throughout the organisation to take everyone on this critical future-proofing journey for your business.

Our latest eBook explains how. Submit your details to download your free copy.

Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change

In today’s VUCA world, where change is constant and where inspirational leadership has become a critical requirement for high-performing businesses, storytelling has become a recognised skill for leaders in organisations all over the world and in every industry sector.

Gone are the days of command-control leadership style. To attract and retain talent – and indeed customers – leaders need to be authentic, empowering, collaborative, involving, open to ideas and encouraging dialogue within their teams to solve complex problems and share best practice – be willing to change and go the extra mile to achieve key business objectives. 

In short, a business’s differentiator comes down to people: how they personify the brand through their actions and behaviours, how this builds corporate trust, customer acquisition and loyalty. 

And for leaders to win over their people – to bring them with them on a journey of uncertainty and change – they need to win hearts and minds; create meaning and purpose in the workplace. It’s not enough to connect people rationally to change. Leaders need to create an emotional connection in order to stimulate the energy and collective spirit needed to power their teams through challenging times, where change is embraced rather than seen as a threat. And yet winning hearts and minds is without doubt one of the hardest parts of change to achieve.

The Storytellers have worked with over 180 major organisations in a quest to find the most effective way of creating this emotional connection. Without doubt, storytelling has a major role to play here. But what exactly is it that makes storytelling so effective in persuading and energising individuals? What draws us to a story, and how exactly does it influence how we think, feel and act?

There are five key traits of a memorable and inspiring story, each of which can be applied to the world of business. Explore them in full by completing the form on this page.