Six Keys to Building Storytelling Organizations That Last
Building storytelling organizations is a critical topic. Why? Because every company today is a publishing company, and a storytelling company. Stories are the amino acids of great marketing content. It’s the foundation for building your content house. And building a solid content house can only happen when storytelling is in your organizational DNA.
The Role of Employees in Building Storytelling Organizations
1. Leaders – and employees – must nurture storytelling in everything they do. Leaders model values. That means it’s important that honest stories are used throughout the organization – by leaders and employees. Storytelling needs to be a part of the cultural DNA that is valued, encouraged, and lived credibly. Both storytelling and storyACTING (I outline this further down) mean story as a practice and living those organizational values. It also means reminding everyone that they, too, are storytellers, keepers, and shapers of the organizational story. Employees need to feel that they are a critical part of this storytelling culture. They help write the story and make it credible through their work, passion, and dedication.
2. Execs empower other storytellers by creating a culture of storytelling. The best storytellers are often not in the exec suite; rather, they are often the employees closest to the customer and on the front lines of service. Storytelling is everyone’s responsibility. Employees co-create stories and are among a brand’s greatest champions. Great exec storytellers recognize that reality and let the best storytellers internally shine. That means reasonable guidelines; however, it also means throwing out the script and not killing positive creativity with too much unnecessary ‘process.’ Leaders encourage storytelling moments across the company by the way they lead, tell stories, and, more credibly, ACT on those stories. Telling and acting must be consistent (refer to point 4 below)!
Customers are Storytellers, Too
3. Execs understand that customers and employees need to see themselves in those stories. Thus, they will extend the narrative to reflect their experiences. Employees and customers will tell the main narrative of the company in their own ways – and that’s in the best interest of the company. People see themselves in a larger story and then shape it to fit their needs. That means the larger story is working. Let champions do that in their own way as long as it honors the larger narrative.
The Truth Matters
4. Execs must stoke the passion internally and externally with the truth. This is not about investing in a fictionalized mythology that doesn’t serve the organization. Execs keep the flame lit for honest stories that stand for something. When the organization veers off track, exec storytellers must be truth-tellers that hold the organization accountable to its mission. When things change, execs must understand that changing culture also means changing the stories the culture tells. A great exec storyteller not only makes sure the flame stays lit with employees and customers; he or she holds the company to that standard by making sure the reality matches the story, and vice-versa. It’s important to tell honest stories of the bad and ugly, not just stories of the great stuff. Companies that tell honest stories internally when times are hard are more trusted internally. That translates to trust externally.
Living the Stories, Not Just Telling Them
5. Execs storytellers must create an organization of storyACTING, not just storyTELLING. Stories become the strategic GPS for decision-making. That means stories are acted on; not just told. For example, if a company says its mission is to revolutionize corporate finance, then opportunities that don’t advance that goal don’t make sense to sink investment into. If a company says it believes in empowering people, then its culture must put that into practice. StoryACTing is what puts values into actions, creates momentum and drives success.
6. Exec storytellers recognize that stories are a barometer of organizational health. Consequently, changing a culture also means changing a culture’s stories. Most leaders analyze the marketing and brand stories of a company to determine its marketplace effectiveness. They are important; however, If you want to know the health of a company to survive long-term, track the stories people tell about the culture. Stories and behavior shape culture. They are the most powerful internal and external marketing tools around. When stories turn toxic, cultural implosion is imminent. To change your culture, start by changing cultural behavior and the stories that define it. Exec storytellers spend time influencing the insiders – employees – because that is more important than influencing outsiders.
What’s made your organization a great storytelling organization? Let me know in the comments!