Connecting People To Your Business Through Stories

In organizations, stories do two powerful things: create emotional connection and help people remember. They help you see where the company’s been, where it is right now, and where it’s headed. Every organization has anecdotes people tell to describe their work, their values, and their purpose. Structuring those snippets into a story framework gives an organization coherence and helps it connect with employees, company leaders, and customers.

You don’t have to makestory, myth, legend up stories about your business. They’re already there. You just have to find them. (Side cautionary tale: Beware of the urge to create fake stories through misguided PR efforts.)

Why go through the trouble? For employees, organizational stories help them discover purpose and make connections between the business values and the work they do. When employees understand the story behind their work, they pass that knowledge on through products and services.

Let’s look at a few types of stories an organization would want to tell:

  • The Quest (aka Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey“): The hero faces a challenge. At first he dismisses or rejects it, but then decides to take it on. He goes on an adventure. He gains friends and enemies. He has a direct confrontation with an enemy and almost doesn’t make it. He reflects and takes on the challenge once more, ultimately winning. He is then transformed and shares his vision as a teacher or a guide to others.
  • The Origin Tale: The back-story revealing how a company (or its leader) brought the vision to life, with a focus on rags-to-riches. (Think Nike’s origin story about making shoes with a waffle iron and selling them from the back of a car.) Start with the event that fueled the passion that eventually led to the business idea. Include experiments–early company names, product names, or processes that didn’t work. Which moment turned things around and launched you to where you are today? Connect these events to the business values.

Structuring Your Story

We all innately know how to tell stories and have been doing so all our lives. There’s no one right answer for how to structure a story. For businesses, simple is better than complex in most cases. In his book Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and InspirePaul Smith suggests using the CAR method to organize business stories: Context, Action, Results:

Context: Where does the story take place? Who’s involved? Introduce the main characters, what they need or want, and any obstacles in the way. If it’s fictional, make sure this is obvious from the beginning. If it’s factual, start with a date or a time in place to help set up the story.

Action: What sort of predicament does your main character (hero) experience? Go into some detail about the main conflict. Are there any setbacks? Here you might also address the climax and turning point, and maybe a follow-up confrontation.

Results: This is the final phase, where three things take place: the story wraps up, the lesson is revealed, and the reason for telling the story is also stated. Does the hero and the villain live, die, succeed, or fail?

How have you used stories in your organization, either internally or externally?


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