Where do you draw the line?
According to Andrew Hill (@andrewtghill), writing for FT Management in 2014, “corporate storytellers are best left on the shelf.” He admits “stories make complex, important information simpler, more coherent, and more memorable.” However, he fears “there is a risk the corporate storytellers start to believe their own stories.”
Andrew’s concern is that storytelling can turn into “myth making” – and companies can fall into the trap of “embellishment, white lies and even fraud.” It would be foolish to deny this is a real risk – and anyone responsible for corporate communications should be aware of it. However, it seems a stretch to suggest this risk is so great that we should avoid storytelling altogether.
Andrew also quotes John Hagel, from Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge, who apparently says we should think of business stories as “open-ended narratives.” John distinguishes between stories that focus on plots and actions (with a beginning, middle and end) and narratives that focus on people and potential. These narratives do not end.
Be open and honest – stick to reality
This is a good distinction. ‘Open-ended narrative’ is also a better way of describing the process of communicating factual business information in a clear, open, and engaging way. Partly because it helps companies avoid the exaggeration associated with stories, particularly the idea that ‘with one more heave’ all will be well.
These strategic narratives should acknowledge that business isn’t a smooth process: that things change, that there aren’t always happy endings or grand victories. They work best when the author has a clear purpose, is honest in their endeavours and is willing to ask executives challenging questions, rather than simply regurgitating the company line. When you have a robust narrative, you can build short stories onto it with integrity and without distorting the underlying message.
The narrative and its associated stories should make strategic detail accessible to a wider audience (internal and external). They should free strategy from management jargon and put it in the context of the individual customer, employee or shareholder (“What does this mean to me?”). However, this shouldn’t be an exercise in wish fulfilment, corporate puffery or boosting the CEO’s ego. If it doesn’t chime with reality, the discord will be obvious to everyone in the audience.
What do you think? Do you like the narrative technique for corporate copy? Please post your comments below or send us a tweet.
We’re blogging for charity
If you enjoyed this post or found it useful or interesting, please donate £2 (or more if you can – the average is £15) to Nelson’s Journey. Donating with JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your money goes direct to the charity, saving the charity time and helping them cut costs.
We have posted this donation button on all our blogs in 2015. We hope to hit our target of £99 by the end of 2015. We will then select a new charity for 2016. If you like this idea, please feel free to copy it and use your blogs to support your favourite charity.
Thank you for reading
This post is part of an occasional series on business, social media and communications. If you found it interesting or useful, please share it with others.
Huw and Wendy