Moving From a Strategy Towards a Strategic Narrative

Why organisations should be telling stories in a strategic narrative

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

After a decade of working with large corporations from different industries, from pharma to automotive and tech, one thing that has stood out over the years is the strategies that we see are put in place, some of which we also helped to develop. We see a base set of values, objectives and mission/vision.

However, what often lacks is a strategic narrative, a story that binds and fastens into one piece everything an organisation stands for, who you are, what you cherish and hold in high esteem. A strategic narrative is a compelling story with a beginning, an audacious body and a future that serves as an insight into your organisational culture and practice.

A misconception that needs to be rid is that strategic narratives are only meant for the leadership and the executive arm of the company. Although the leadership may truly be responsible for the crafting of the story, it is however paramount that the employees and even customers of the company are on board with the visions and goals of the organisation.

Much like brand storytelling, strategic narratives help in shaping a company’s identity through the use of narratives and storytelling techniques that facilitate an emotional stimulus and establish deeper relationships.

There is an abysmal void that the lack of a narrative leaves within an organisation and that may be the reason for the recent resurgence of the art of “Storytelling” and “Narrative Work” (also called “Story Work”). Interestingly this art is ancient and yet has more reasons to be applied in these times of extended VUCA due to the pandemic, political and global situation.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

The art of storytelling is one that is part of many cultures and has been since the very beginning. Taking on various forms, stories are a predominant way of communicating narratives for cultural, educational or entertaining purposes — sometimes even to promote moral values. From Hebrew parables to African proverbs, English poetry and Greek myths and legends, various forms of storytelling can be found in almost any and every culture all around the world.

But why is storytelling important? Because according to Peter L. Berger, human life is narratively rooted. He says, “humans construct their lives and shape their world into homes in terms of these groundings and memories”. Since stories are a part of virtually every culture, they could serve as a tool of resonance for peoples of dissimilar cultures.

In business however, organisations have been using storytelling at work, in marketing, in PR or even in recruiting. It is not an uncommon practice to hear recruiters and hiring managers ask a potential hire, “So, what is your story?” In parallel, recruiters are also using the art of storytelling to attract top talent to their organisation. Why? Because they realise simply publishing a vacancy is to create an eventual onerous task trying to sift through a basket of Toms, Dicks and Harries.

Communicating using storytelling techniques is a more compelling and effective way of delivering information compared to merely throwing out dry facts. Stories translate in ways that facts could never; they translate in cases and instances where facts would pick no emotional interests. Having a narrative picture of a company’s vision, values and goals does help determine employee/customer loyalty. In fact, according to a 2014 study, 87% of customers declared they would love to develop more meaningful relationships with brands and only 17% believe that brands are actually delivering that.

Today’s world is becoming less human-centric and digital alternatives have more or less taken over market spaces. Therefore, storytelling may be the strongest connective tissue left between an organisation, its employees and the general public in an automated world. It creates a resonance, a connection {employer <> employer engagement } — a relatability of sorts — that allows the organisation to tap into the very need for emotional connection that humans crave.

Storytelling certainly does leave a very powerful impact on us, research shows. Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone. They stick in our memory and last much longer than general information. The brain releases dopamine when it experiences an emotionally charged event, making it easier to remember and with great accuracy.

The sensory cortex part of the human brain lights up in response to a story. This means that storytelling illuminates and activates parts of our brain that are only active when we actually experience something. This lets the listener turn the story into their own ideas and experience in a process called neural coupling. Although stories are complex and dynamic, our brains are wired to understand them in more comprehensive ways than we would processing pieces and bits of information. A story engages more areas of the brain than dry facts. In addition to the sensory cortex, the frontal cortex and motor cortex are activated by stories.

In a VUCA world, it is very likely that there is an abundance of organisations that do exactly what you do, a brand that offers the same thing you offer or a retailer that sells the same product as you. Although this might be the case, it is very unlikely that there is another person out there with the same story as you. And since your story is unique to you, organisations need to start sharing their story across all communication platforms.

Therefore, instead of trying to join an overly crowded marketplace with millions of products and services being dumped on the consumer by service providers, sharing the story behind your organisation does not only make you stand out, it also gives the customers, employees and stakeholders an experience to be a part of. In fact, a 2009 report by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke cited strategic narrative as one of the key enablers of Employee Engagement.

Nobel prize winner, professor and entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus created a renewed approach to social businesses by investing in the people that no bank would speak to. He did not stop there, he continued his journey by building an organization that will have impact beyond his work. To achieve this, he built a strategic narrative with his team by weaving together the emotions that encapsulate the identity of the people it serves in an enthralling narrative. Long after Prof. Yunus is gone, the social business model will be remembered because of the story behind him and his organization. You may even forget his name, but the stories about his vision to end poverty linger on.

Yunus pioneered the social business model. His vision was to eradicate poverty by creating a business with a social mission at its core — a mission to solve human problems. His vision was never to create a charity, rather to help build sustainable business set up to solve a specific problem in poor and impoverished communities. So he founded Grameen Bank, a micro-finance institution that allows inhabitants of rural communities to secure loans with no interests.

Image: Prof. Muhammad Yunus

The narrative behind what Prof. Yunus has built is one that is not just inspiring, but one that is dedicated to serving rural communities and ending poverty by ensuring that all profits generated by a social business are invested back into serving the poor which it represents. Yunus social business has since its inception gone to support and grow local businesses from Africa to Latin America and the Indian subcontinent.

You can start with yourself today. What storyline would you choose to describe your personal ambitions? If everything turns out as planned, how would you describe your situation (from a best friend´s perspective) in 5 or 10 years? Try it for yourself, then start with your team or your organization.

Need support? Feel free to contact us and stay with us via our blog and on instagram.

Since 2010 Lumen is a collective of creative minds and strategists, pushing organisations towards a new vision of economy, #newwork and #socialresponsibility

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