How to Build a Culture of Storytelling in Your Organization (And Why It Matters)
The key to unlocking innovation for many senior leaders is figuring out ways to improve how multi-functional teams collaborate and communicate with each other, with clients, and with external groups. Great products and services are born when people embrace storytelling to share an idea and move it into action and co-creation. It is an easily teachable skill that is a goldmine for increasing productive collaboration and connectedness for any organization looking to succeed in what many are calling the New Creative Economy… a world where ideas and imagination become the competitive advantage of companies looking for profitable growth and revenue in the decades to come.
So, what exactly is this formula and how can it be implemented in any organization?
Storytelling is based on simple, concrete tools to organize and prioritize facts, data, and ideas in a way that—science has proven—helps human brains digest information quickly.
Here’s an example:
Data Only: “The global pet insurance market was valued at USD 5.7 billion in 2018. The global market will reach USD 10.2 billion in 2025.”
Data + Story: “It’s official. We’ve gone poodle crazy. By 2025 pet owners will spend over ten billion dollars worldwide to make sure their pups are healthy.”
As you can see, ideas that are arranged by establishing context, identifying a problem or event that has occurred within that context, and bringing resolution to that problem not only hold the audience’s attention longer, but also better position decision-makers to quickly and decisively take action.
To build a culture of storytelling, leadership must be the ones to inspire and propel the practice of storytelling from the top down through the organization. First, senior leaders must be model coaches themselves. Then they must encourage staff to coach one another. When coaching happens regularly, the ability to weave ideas, data, and insights into a strong narrative will skyrocket. And soon, impactful storytelling will seep into day-to-day business communications.
Story fluency will not come without plenty of practice in an open, trusting work environment. The first common obstacle organizations face when ingraining storytelling into an organization is the pressure of time and resources (or lack thereof). In today’s fast-paced, overextended culture, it’s no wonder people often feel pressure to assemble proposals, design project strategy, and respond to high-stakes emails quickly. It often seems faster to isolate and whip up a story by ourselves. For teams, this usually means breaking off individual pieces and patching them together at the end. While this appears to save time, the final product is often a mess; presenting results in a hodge-podge and possibly even confusing narrative that may contain extraneous information and no throughline (…or possibly both).
Regular, ongoing manager and peer story coaching helps people better organize and target their ideas to see what works and what doesn’t, and prevents the fallout of siloed working communications. The story coaching step should not be seen as “extra,” but as a time-saver that produces a more effective final product and better sells ideas. Making people comfortable with coaching check-ins is an important first step in ensuring storytelling becomes common practice and never a waste of time.
The second obstacle to regular coaching is more personal. People often feel uncomfortable sharing ideas that might not be fully thought through. They’re worried they’ll get it wrong, look foolish, or seem amateurish. This is possibly the harder obstacle to get past. Top and mid-level managers must signal to teams that it’s acceptable to get it wrong at first, and they should do what they can to ease any insecurity about sharing. Story development is all about iteration.
The remarkable bi-product of integrated coaching—besides better storytelling—is how quickly it will spread the language of storytelling, ultimately building a more productive and efficient idea-driven culture. This leads directly to the main two reasons why organizations should build a culture of storytelling:
- Storytelling Creates a Shared Language, Making it Easier to Communicate
Business communications are often prepared by teams, many of which are remote these days. This can mean multiple people, serving different functions or at different levels—possibly all over the world they founded The Presentation Company (TPC) in 2001 after seeing so many talented business people miss opportunities to sell their ideas due to messages that lacked clarity, authenticity, and meaning. collaborating on one story. Perhaps it’s the sales team calling on marketing folks to send over some slides for a pitch. Or perhaps it’s a product manager looping in the finance team for a projected budget. If everyone is working from a common story framework and using a shared vocabulary to describe the story elements, their mission is made infinitely easier.
- Story Coaching is Steroids for Great Collaboration and Innovation
A culture of storytelling goes hand-in-hand with a culture of coaching since leaders must model story coaching themselves, working with staff to ensure every sales presentation, budget proposal, product update, etc. adheres to the story framework and is targeted accurately toward the intended audience. This modeled coaching also encourages peer-to-peer coaching as a regular part of the story development process. No more siloed working.
Managers should never miss the chance to point out the everyday opportunities to tell stories, and the more they do, the more successful they will be in their role today… and tomorrow. Once mastered, business storytelling is a skill people take with them for life.
Written by Janine Kurnoff. Have you read?
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