Storytelling as an engagement tool. Are you a woodsman or a sailor?

“Public-sector cutbacks”, “corporate re-sizing”, “brand relaunches”, “values implosions”; “threats of strike action”: yes, we’re knee deep in massive change again. And there’s nothing quite like the threat of change to test the mettle of your leaders and the tolerance of your employees.

If leadership is partly about inspiring a community of individuals to undertake a collective endeavour, then stories are essential to articulate that vision. Noel Tichy in his book The Leadership Engine remarks that: “The best way to get humans to venture into unknown terrain is to make that terrain familiar and desirable by taking them there first in their imagination.”

Further, writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry remarked that: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

When a leader inspires, he or she breathes life and energy into their followers. When we reflect on the extraordinarily motivating speeches Winston Churchill made, it’s clear that no amount of PowerPoint (had it existed) and no amount of consultancy or accountancy models would ever have had the effect of his well-chosen words. And Martin Luther King had a dream, he didn’t have a change goal and wasn’t at a critical point of inflection. Or was he?

The results of a study at London Business School show how much of the message we retain depends on the vehicle of communication.
• Statistics = 5-10%
• Statistics and Story = 25-30%
• Story = 65-70%

And the moral of this story is that if you are delivering the “who we are” (brand identity), “where we’re going” (mission/vision), “what culture we need” and “how we’re going to get there” (strategy) piece, then don’t rely too much on statistics alone to land the message. As Ian illustrates in the case studies in Brand Engagement, involve people, paint pictures, provide a context, use metaphors, bring challenges to life use live forum theatre and empowering communal problem solving, take responsibility for the emerging narrative and work towards the best possible outcome for all groups.

Engagement, regardless of the subject matter, relies on achieving resonance between corporate and individual values. Unless that resonance is there, there’s no psychological contract, people won’t relax and be themselves and employees simply won’t go the extra mile and invest that little bit more that may just make the difference.

This is most definitely the time to reflect on the story of the foundations as well as the evolution of your organisation and where your people fit into that narrative to create a culture that positively supports rather than resists change.

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2 thoughts on “Storytelling as an engagement tool. Are you a woodsman or a sailor?

  1. Inspiring stuff Mr Buckingham.
    If only more business leaders would start to put some of these principles into action!

  2. Pingback: Mind the engagement gap… | The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

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