Uncovering alignment with authentic stories
Why become an effective storyteller? Yes, you can repair your reputation, deliver more effective messages and have a greater impact on your people. But, ultimately, storytelling also enables you to create a more powerful organization.
Narratives promote alignment, and a more cohesive culture yields greater performance and productivity. But alignment doesn't mean coercing others to agree with you. When people are encouraged to share the fundamental principles that are essential to their lives and work, they discover commonalities. An enduring bond forms, outlasting daily disagreements, pressures and stress. Over time, this organic approach can shape your new legacy and lift your company to a higher level of effectiveness.
Here are five ways to use storytelling to promote alignment in your organization.
Beware the superficial. It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to "build" or "impose" alignment from the outside. Many businesses take this superficial approach. Consider the CEO of a newly-merged company who hired an advertising agency to define the values and vision. Based on one "brainstorming" session with only the senior team, they constructed a "new narrative." At the expensive launch party, they rolled out some hip new slogans, logos and giveaways. It was the perfect "outsourced solution." Within three months, however, 25 percent of the staff had departed. Productivity and customer service collapsed.
Uncover authentic alignment. Imposed or assumed alignment isn't real. True alignment must be uncovered. It's there within your company no matter how divisive the behaviors may appear. Stories uncover shared identities and principles. Once your people begin to articulate their values through stories, they'll reach out to each other in new ways. Your job as chief storyteller is to fully promote that bonding.
I'm encouraged that more companies are using the transformative power of storytelling. One multinational I know of has struggled for years with a damaging market perception. Despite playing a crucial role in global commerce, they have a reputation for only driving profits and dominating markets. Compelling scientific data and aggressive marketing campaigns have not been effective.
But now senior management is undertaking a radical experiment. People at all levels are being encouraged to tell their own stories. The themes include: "Why are you passionate about your work?" and "What's the impact you want to have through it?" Already there is evidence of renewed vitality and partnership. Perceptions and experience are shifting "one story at a time."
Storytelling is contagious. We all experience how stories prompt sharing: "Your story reminds me of the time..." While you're the Chief Storyteller, yours isn't the only important account waiting to be told. You're just the catalyst. It's your job to help other narratives find the light of day by:
• Inviting people to tell you how they see the company going forward and what their role will be in making that happen; and,
• Creating opportunities for them to speak in team meetings, conferences, town halls and through internal publications.
This is essential. Stories form the basis of a collective identity and they are the first step towards the deep-seated alignment I'm referring to.
Keep asking questions. As you craft your own narrative, ask people about the issues on their minds. What do they need you to address? Ask good questions and people will know you're listening.
When you deliver your narrative, remember your listeners are carrying on a dialogue with you in their own minds. Encourage this "virtual" participation with questions like: "What does that mean for your work going forward?" or "Will this change your approach? If so, how?" Acknowledge what they might be thinking: "I appreciate this might change your thinking." Or "This is a new approach. Let's think it through."
By the way, never ask rhetorical questions -- they always sounds like you're talking to yourself.
After your presentation, the real work starts. Seek feedback. Do people relate to you and identify with the mission? How? You'll hear similar themes and ideas, both pro and con. No matter how divided you think people might be, you'll also hear shared themes. Point them out. They're the bedrock of your new culture.
The power of inclusion. The language you use to convey your narrative is powerful. Don't take it for granted. Encourage shared ownership and strong relationships. Use words like "we", "us" and "our", rather than "I", "me" and "mine".
And in all discussions, replace "Yes, but..." with "Yes, and..." This approach invites collaboration and exploration.
PRACTICE TIME. Ask your people about meaningful moments they've had at work. What made them noteworthy and how can they be replicated?
Invite exploration. Where do they see the company going? What's the impact they'd like to have? What support do they need from you? When you hear common themes, acknowledge the similarities in viewpoints and aspirations.
Earlier posts in this series:
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