Corporate storytelling is developing a huge following and it’s not just for CIOs. Larry Prusak loves it, Patrick Lencioni has elevated it into a fine art and everyone seems to be getting the storytelling bug. Stories are great because they help people from disparate backgrounds develop a common understanding of a problem or vision – one that sticks. Storytelling has the power to corral even the most difficult of us and motivate us to play our part in the corporate journey.
Executives love stories because they require almost no detail, no plan, no roles and responsibilities and no changes in remuneration. Done well, they can convince people into delivering more for less pay and when they don’t stories will shame those same underpaid workers into delivering the goods. What’s not to like about storytelling?
At large UK outsourcing establishment there was an underperforming account in the Midlands. Legend has it that the CEO of the local authority berated the account manager with the legendary phrase: I’ll buy more IT when you can solve teenage pregnancy!” The account manager duly skulked into the corner and got on about his job of providing outsourced IT services. What should he have done? He should have used that story to develop truly value adding services which would have (i) increased the profitability of the account, (ii) built trust between him and the CEO, and (iii) possibly helped try and solve the actual problem.
He didn’t, so I did. I went to India and spoke to our outsourcing partners. I tried to engineer an end-to-end process whereby we could harness the incredible intellectual latency of our outsourcing partners, Genpact and Patni, to develop an integrated process for analysing local authority data then identify and target girls at risk for tailored social services. In this way we could break the socially debilitating cycle of early teenage pregnancy whilst pushing account revenue into the stratosphere. We needed to do this in a way that enabled us to retain the confidence of our customers as well as created buy-in from internal management. So, we made sure the data security was right and that the project was aligned to the new corporate strategy of a greater push into outsourcing the middle-office.
I told the story. I told it again and again but I used it to tease out the detail of the development process, the customer engagement process, the revenue model and the customer benefits. Because, for every executive who smiled at the heart-warming vision there were 3 contrary developers, engineers and other middle managers who tried to shoot me down with the detail. My story explained the engineering process. My story was the glue which pulled all the systems engineering together and that is how I believe enterprise storytelling can help organisations.