Strategic storytelling – the importance of sharing stories
This is a cross post from Couravel.com written by Mike Pounsford. The Oxfam Rich picture is by David Gifford.
Storytelling is often seen as a communication tool to be used by leaders to influence an audience. But some of the most powerful applications of strategic storytelling involve groups of people from all levels and disciplines sharing their stories and linking these to a higher strategic narrative. Global organisations such as the charity Oxfam, New Look – the fashion retailer, TUI – the travel company, GSK – the pharmaceutical giant and BAE Systems – the defence and engineering business, have all developed meaning and purpose for their people by encouraging people to tell their stories to each other.
There is a danger of creating too much mystique around storytelling by over-complicating it and worrying too much about developing story structure and metaphor. Too much emphasis on developing storytelling skills loses the authenticity that comes from people simply talking from the heart. Most people if asked when they have felt engaged at work or when they have felt connected to an organisation’s purpose, will tell a story. People do not need to be great raconteurs to do this. If the story is honest, matters to the storyteller and is relevant it will resonate with others.
For example, Oxfam GB has a narrative for its people to tell others about what Oxfam stands for and what it does. But the organisation struggled to take this narrative, despite powerful imagery and compelling anecdotes, off the page and into deeper conversations and exchanges that helped people connect in a more meaningful way.
To overcome this a design team started telling each other stories about why they had joined Oxfam and what mattered to them. In this “First Conversation” they realized how important their personal stories were and how it helped them relate to each other. They developed a picture that captured the history of the organisation showing Oxfam as a global movement of millions of people who share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn’t inevitable. This became “the Story of Us” and acted as a prompt for colleagues to share their stories.
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