Category: Visions of the Future

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

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

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

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

Looking inwards: overcoming resistance to change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Exploring the true meaning of ‘digital’

The power of digital has saved us as a nation, enabling organisations, colleagues, communities, friends and families to stay connected through a period of dramatic disruption. We now have a better understanding of the value that digital can bring to us, both as individuals and collective communities. A rare opportunity has been created for organisations to connect humans and digital much more closely – paving the way forward together as a truly social enterprise.

It seems every organisation has been racing to become more ‘digital’ over the years, but have we ever stopped to understand what it means to us individually and to different groups of people? Have you stopped to think about what being ‘more digital’ means to you?

For executives, digital transformation may mean new technology platforms and using data-driven insights to make better decisions. For millennials and Gen Z, the ability to switch between apps, influence an audience and have a platform for their voice to be heard. For others, it may be purely using a smartphone, or engaging with customers in new, innovative ways. None of these are incorrect – it can mean so many different things to each of us, but no wonder such varied perspectives make alignment and a common vision very tricky for a leadership team.

Pioneering a digital future

The pandemic accelerated every transformation, especially digital, and emphasised a need for every executive team to revisit their vision of the future and the role digital plays in it – a future which is upon us much faster than we expected. We are seeing a shift for leaders from an inward-facing defence position to one that has to be leading the attack with their teams. The big challenge is to build resilient businesses and create a customer experience that is not only digital but also human and personal. 

Take Spotify, which is leading the way on this: the top dog of the music streaming world, which focuses consistently on delivering a seamless, human user experience and building communities through playlists. It uses data analytics to personalise playlist content for us based on preferences and trends. Now it is taking bold strides to dominate the world of podcasting too. But what’s the secret behind its success?

Technology and humans are completely interconnected. Spotify’s revolutionary internal model of ‘squads and tribes’ has been an inspiration to many and allowed it to unite small, cross-functional teams behind a common purpose. This nimble approach has created a distinctive people culture which is strongly connected with the role of digital, allowing it to interact closely with customers and co-create new solutions at pace.

Unlock empowerment and purpose 

Indeed, not every organisation can quickly implement a squads and tribes model but every organisation has a purpose to unite people and can use this to explore what digital means to them. In a recent study by Deloitte, 79 percent of respondents said “fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce” was important or very important in the next 12-18 months. As we move through to the recover and thrive phase of the current pandemic, purpose has never been so important to connect colleagues, helping them understand the role they play alongside digital and, as things change, ensure they feel empowered to prioritise and make decisions.

Focus on mindset

Digital is not just about the technology, it’s a mindset. It’s the behaviours we exhibit, the relationships we create and the attitude with which we approach our work. If leaders fail to bring people along the journey with them without context and a clear understanding of the part they play alongside digital, they risk chronic disengagement. Where people who are not upskilled nor empowered to adapt and experiment, organisations will be slow to act and will quickly lose relevance in the market.

Taking an open approach and creating a culture of continuous learning with the ability to move fast, change direction and innovate will be the difference between those that fail, those that survive and those that thrive. To do this, we need to galvanise people, set clear goals and connect to purpose – it is only then will people feel inspired to anticipate desired customer outcomes and bring fresh ideas to the table. 

And connect your people… 

Here are five things that are helping our clients to focus on connecting people to rethink what digital means to them, and ensure transformation is adopted at scale and pace:

  1. Authentic and visible leadership is critical to help to shape the future. There is nothing more powerful than seeing an Executive team aligned behind a compelling story which connects people to purpose – openly acknowledging challenges but also providing stability and hope
  2. Instil a culture of continuous learning and innovation where colleagues are encouraged to rapidly design and innovate, no matter what the level or part of the organisation they are in
  3. Tell stories – both stories of success, but also face failure head on. Don’t be afraid to discuss these as a team to help to connect colleagues on an emotional as well as a rational level
  4. Create cross-team communities to connect people in new ways, bridge silos which can develop more when working remotely,and help others to understand what is happening in other parts of the business
  5. Prioritise clear communication channels and collaboration tools. It is worth agreeing these as a wider team. After a period of remote working, it is beneficial to have a group conversation on what’s working and what’s not, to learn and focus on what to take forward for the future with a clear purpose for each.

A couple of thoughts to finish with:

Is your organisation connecting colleagues, customers and communities to a common purpose? 

How is your organisation rethinking what digital means to them – what does it mean to you?

Let’s start a conversation, we’d love to hear from you.

Diagnostic: navigating to the new normal, are you ready?

Businesses now, more than ever, require a collective resilience and clear strategy to navigate through one of the most unprecedented times of crisis in history since World War II. As is often the case, times of extreme challenge define businesses’ future success. 

So how ready are your leaders for the journey the business needs to go on through and beyond this pandemic?

The Storytellers’ health-check profile is intended to be a thought-provoking tool for business leaders during our current global pandemic. We are constantly talking to executives across different industries as they shape the story they are using to engage and connect their people. We’ve pulled together insights from their agenda, together with research from other organisations, to identify what leaders need to be focusing on now to enable their organisations to both survive the next 12 months and thrive beyond it.

Our health-check profile provides a succinct and clear insight into some of the common pitfalls of organisations which fail through adversity as well as defining what great can look like, and what organisations ‘getting it right’ stand to gain. The results are simply an indication for potential risk and opportunity areas to consider; they shouldn’t be used to inform organisational decisions without additional data points and consultation.

Your story: a framework for progress and action

Over the last few months, our team has been working hard to support Executive teams all over the world. These leaders are facing the momentous challenge of adapting to the immediate and ever-evolving situation. As this adaptation happens and organisations move from short-term crisis management to longer term planning, they are starting to consider how they must now transform to be ready to play their part in the “new normal”.

It’s very clear that Covid-19 will have profound and lasting economic, social and cultural impacts. We’re living in a moment in which businesses need to react quickly, act with empathy and fulfil their purpose in a way that helps society navigate a deeply troubling time. Doing so will also prepare organisations for re-emerging into a very different landscape.

The new stories of change

We’ve certainly heard an abundance of stories from our virtual interactions – acts of compassion, moments of innovation, the sudden removal of barriers and cultural walls. We’ve heard from leaders, amazed at how their people have united to achieve things that would have taken months or even years, in a matter of weeks.

For our clients who are in the process of co-creating a narrative to navigate through these changes, there are some significant realisations. There is now an increasing understanding that this situation is catalysing trends and drivers of change. Many of these trends were already significant drivers of change before Covid-19. The convergence of these trends means businesses will face the task of transformation, evolution, even redefinition, on a quite remarkable scale.

Seizing the opportunity

These transformations will, as ever, tend to focus on certain key areas of challenge or opportunity. Those that are truly meaningful will reconsider the very business model and nature of the business that has been successful to date. What will that business model look like in the face of this level of change?

Those leaders who are now starting to be proactive in preparing their people and organisations for profound, continuous change will emerge ready to tackle the enormous challenges ahead and then seize the opportunities that present themselves.

Leading a movement of change

One of the true tests of leadership in the coming months will be: who are the leaders who can successfully create a movement of change? Who are the leaders who will inspire people to look beyond current limits and define new opportunities? Who are the leaders who will generate unity and collective action in the face of challenge? Momentous change is on its way. These leaders won’t design the organisations of the future – but the teams of people who they inspire to believe and take action absolutely will. Focus on the story your organisation needs to write over the coming months and then turn it into a framework for progress and action.

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! 

Visions of the Future: #TakeYourSeat

November 8th, 2013: Take your seat. The world is dying.

The world is dying, and you’ve been given a front-row seat – a privileged spectator spot. Others take their seat in front of televisions and computer screens, where storms are rendered via satellite, and climate change is experienced via tweets rather than typhoons.

Take your seat: passivity, spectacle, experiential and ethical distance.

Not for you. For you, to take a seat is not to observe the tumult from afar but to live it: the uprooting of community, a city ripped asunder in moments, submerged and swept away in the space of an afternoon.

It is to live waves as weighty as windmills and wind wild as whirlpools. It is to live loss as immediate as the breath you barely kept. It is to be crushed by the blows of a planetary ecosystem crumbling under intolerable strain, to feel climate change as not a noun but the most violent and vehement of verbs.

When chairs are strewn across streets like seaweed on seashores – empty chairs and empty tables – how to take a seat?

How to take a seat when yours no longer exists?

December 3rd, 2018: Take your seat. The world is dying.

The world is dying, and the distance between those who experience and those who execute – between those who spectate and those who strategise – can no longer be perpetuated.

It’s not as though the climate clarion calls haven’t been intensifying for not just months but decades. It’s not as though the increasing incidence of extreme weather events – insatiably destructive wildfires, hurricanes that direct destruction towards families, cities and livelihoods, flash floods and snowstorms and drought, the tick-tock of minute but relentless temperature increase – haven’t offered sufficient justification for a watershed moment.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference – snugly situated in Poland’s Katowice, where it would be easy to forget that climate change will not be experienced as half-degree global temperature rises but as lived loss – hopes to be that watershed moment.

But how to turn the silent spectator’s tragedy into the catalyst for change? How to ensure that those that theorise are joined at the table by those that feel – when the latter group is comprised by millions, each as deserving of a voice as the next?

How to ensure that those millions are perceived not as a sigh-inducing statistic but as a chorus of individual voices, each with a human story that demands immediate progress?

You give each of them a chair at the table, using the possibilities that digital technologies offer for democratic engagement with society’s leaders.

You create a space where politician and Executive are held to account by citizen, and the voiceless become the vocal.

You create the catalyst by which we translate abstraction into action, safeguarding the future of our planet.

You ask each of them to #TakeYourSeat.

Climate change had been on the agenda of those that lead since well before Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the small city of Tacloban, The Philippines, on November 8th, 2013, killing 6,300 and shattering the lives of those that survived. One of those was Joanna Sustento, whose family was lost to the storm.

Sustento is the perfect example of those who are reduced to deindividualizing noun (‘people’, ‘those affected’, ‘millions’) in high-level talks about counteracting climate change, yet those who are most susceptible to its imminent effects.

Ever since that day, Sustento has spent her life agitating for action, attempting to hold those most responsible for our warming planet to account. However, the world no longer has the leeway, or the luxury, to wait for more Sustentos to live climate tragedy before they are heard.

This year, the UN took note, and created a symbolic space that those seeking to salvage our planet could occupy, irrespective of location or status: the People’s Seat. Using the virtual communal areas created by social media and digital technology, it invited all those wanting to join the conversation to #TakeYourSeat.

In doing so, it ensured that the act of taking a seat was reconfigured as active participation rather than passive observation, and that active participation was a possibility offered to the many, not the few.

Climate change has regularly been spoken of as our greatest, and existential challenge. Daunting though the prospect of tackling that challenge is, we believe that the ‘incalculably diffusive’ effects that can arise from mass participation are imperative if we are to succeed – if we are to prevent global temperature from rising 1.5% above pre-industrial levels.

We perceive the People’s Seat as an initial ripple that we hope might facilitate tidal waves – tsunamis – of climate action: waves restore breath to a choking planet, and make manifest a world in which all of us can take a seat at tables where the stakes, and the potential costs, are rather lower.