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Storytelling as an engagement tool - are you woodsmen or sailors?

6th Jul 2011
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“Public-sector cutbacks”, “corporate re-sizing”, “brand relaunches”, “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 I illustrate 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 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.

For case studies and more details about the practical application of storytelling, forum theatre or any of the engagement approaches mentioned here take a look at The Brand Trilogy and share your engagement stories and challenges.


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By StorytellerBill
07th Jul 2011 15:51

In every great undertaking that a corporation or organization takes on, there are hundreds if not thousands of practical steps that need take place; but first there is a leap of faith. Throughout history, storytelling has been the way leaders compel people to make that leap, helping them marry the logic of where we want to go with the magic of why we want to go there in the first place. As pointed out in the excellent blog post above, to create change you need to create resonance first. Get people to think differently and talk differently, and chances are very good you can get them to act differently.

If you want to read more about how storytelling can help leaders engage and align their employees, an article of mine just posted on Thanks for spreading the word.

-- Bill Baker BB&Co Strategic Storytelling Twitter: StorytellerBill

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Ian P Buckingham
By Ian Buckingham
08th Jul 2011 12:03



We do it naturally.

With a little "light touch facilitation" it can be a hugely helpful way of taking a more positive slant on legacy in change scenarios and can bring the personality back into communication channels etc.

Have seen the magic in action within the petro-chemical, consultancy and professional services worlds....and if the suits can grasp it, well.......

Plenty of positive and grounded case studies here: 




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By alisonrbcm
10th Jul 2011 17:54

As part of our trainer training we were encouraged to use stories and I love to find ones that resonate with the subject matter to reinforce learning. I also love metaphors and as I shared on my Supply Management blog I often use gardening as a means of explaining what procurement and supplier management is all about to internal stakeholders.

One other thought - at a recent Professional Speakers Association conference one of the speakers used a similar distinction between data and stories. She said a higher % of stories worked for UK and American audiences but not so much those from other countries. I'd be interested therefore if the LBS research was UK based?



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Ian P Buckingham
By Ian Buckingham
10th Jul 2011 18:47

An interesting build.


I believe the LBS research was international.

My experience is that storytelling is completely cross-cultural and as well used in the West as it is in the East.

The issue (if there is one) usually rests with the facilitation in multi-cultural groups which doesn't always bring out the best from the less vocal participants (there being a great deal of difference between participants from different countries in this regard).

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By alisonrbcm
20th Jul 2011 12:33

I knew I had my notes somewhere - the person I met who advised on international communication and the differences is Deborah Swallow - it's the % and content of the communication that's spent on emotions/facts/stories that changes between different cultures

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