Is Organizational Storytelling a Fad?

I’ve been in the communications field for 27 years. I’ve seen all the fashions come and go. First, there was corporate speak. (Think Mad Men, where the old boys’ network and the Ivy League degrees caused people to listen.) Then, dot-com speak. (Think “mission-critical, 24/7 value proposition” messaging -nonstop). Then, social media speak. (Think soundbites. About everything such as “I just ate a tuna fish sandwhich.”) Today we are coming full circle to return to an ancient form of communication that actually never went out of style. That’s storytelling.

Corporate or organizational storytelling uses the technique of using narrative that evokes an emotional response from its audience. And, in today’s information superload world, it is turning out to be the best way to get your targets to listen and remember you.

Storytelling is now the cool kid on the block for two simple reasons: 

  • The re-introduction of the power of individuals in communication
  • The increasingly noisy and data-packed world in which we live

With the change in “who’s in charge” around communication (thank you, social media) the corporate veil has dropped to show the people behind the magic. And, with real people come some very real needs – to be heard and to make a difference. People also are the heart of all organizations (not to mention news stories), so keeping them interested means talking about them or other people for relevance.

Additionally, the noise level has risen. Did you know we consume 174 newspapers’ worth of data a day (compared to just two and a half pages 24 years ago)? And, we produce the equivalent of six newspapers a day? That’s a lot of stuff. 

These two characteristics of our changing world – people taking control of communication and the increase in information coming at us all the time – is why I believe we have a resurgence of using storytelling techniques to our professional lives. Because, let’s face it, hearing “let me tell you a story,” is far more interesting than “let me tell you about our services.”

Do You Trust Your Employees Online?

Unless you’ve been under a rock at the bottom of the sea, you have been witnessing a fundamental shift in how organizations are telling their story and by whom.

Thanks to social networks, corporate brands and customer interaction are becoming increasingly tied to the individuals who work for them.  Individual employees, once hidden behind a corporate veil, are now taking the reins, empowered through new technologies and media to communicate with and solve problems for customers, shape brands, and tout their expertise. They are the new forward face of business.

Today, the very brand of a company is being built from the bottom up. For instance if you conduct a quick search of LinkedIn for any major company name, dozens (if not hundreds) of individual profiles will come up. Type in “Caterpillar” and more than 4,600 profiles emerge of individuals who work (or worked) for the company. Those profiles give a LinkedIn visitor a sense of the company.  

And, this is why we believe we have hit a wall of fear among executives in corporate America over social media and social networking. We hear that an individual’s presence online, uncontrolled and not directed is, well, scary.

But, corporate America will need to prepare itself for the rise of the worker who is empowered over what is possible – versus what is permissible – with today’s new technology landscape.

Some people – the early adopters – are even tapping into social networks and adopting the corporate spokesman role without being told to or getting permission (which only rachets up the fear factor.) We have found this is usually not out of defiance, but rather, out of a sincere passion to engage with others and advance their careers, profession and employers.  So, for the first time ever, we may have reached a place in corporate America where saying we trust our employees will be finally proven or not.

As Charlene Li stated in her book, Open Leadership, “A key difference today is that a new generation of workers is coming of age that believes ‘sharingness’ is next to—or more important than – godliness.” Do you trust them to share? Who do you believe it doing a good job of trusting their employees as the forward face?