2016 is shaping up to be the year of the corporate narrative. We’ve heard so much interest in this topic from across our membership that we’ve decided to launch a new, major research initiative – Using a Corporate Narrative to Activate Support.
A recent post summarized some early areas of interest, specifically highlighting three open questions on the corporate narrative that the majority of our members are wrestling with.
- What’s better: consistency, or resonance?
- Should my narrative actually be a story?
- How much external context should I include?
Since this time we’ve continued to talk to heads of communication about this topic and have surfaced a couple new, and we think fundamental, questions about the corporate narrative. Specifically, “What is the end goal of the corporate narrative?” and “Who should be using the narrative in their communication with stakeholders?”
You might think that these are fairly obvious questions, and I’d probably be inclined to agree with you, except that nothing about corporate communication is obvious or simple. For example, the process of crafting a corporate narrative is often exceptionally challenging. Why? Because it requires synthesizing diverse documents such as the company’s vision, purpose, strategy, brand, and values into a single narrative story.
Theoretically, these components should already “talk to one another,” but it’s more likely that they have developed over time and require some work to knit together. Add to this mix the similar documents from companies that you’ve acquired over the years and you’ll quickly see why creating a narrative can become a monumental undertaking.
This is all a long way of saying that communicators often get so wrapped up in the task of building a narrative that they underinvest in thinking through how it will be used.
Question 1: How do we make it easy for employees to use the corporate narrative in their communication?
Communications doesn’t have the bandwidth to write every corporate narrative-aligned message, not when there are so many different stakeholders with whom you’d like to share the company story (e.g., employees, prospective employees, investors, financial analysts, advocacy groups, potential customers to name a handful).
When you think about it this way you reach the conclusion that for the narrative to truly be useful, it needs to be used by various employee groups in their communication with internal and external stakeholder.
So what tools, guidance, advice do we need to provide alongside the narrative to make it easy for these employees to create narrative-aligned messages?
Question 2: How do I get people to choose to be consistent with the narrative?
In our earlier post we talked about the trade-off between consistency and resonance. In a perfect world, our communication about the corporate identity and direction would be 100% consistent. But the stakeholder groups listed above are very diverse, as are the various business contexts in which the narrative is used. Again, this leads us to wonder, what kind of tools or templates need to be created to help employees tell the company story to their audiences and exactly how much latitude do you give them to tweak the story for their needs?