Most firms would benefit from a better corporate narrative. At base, it is a way of giving everyone who works with or for the company a shared sense of purpose, and for customers and others to understand what the company is trying to achieve.
The problem is that, at a time when near constant change makes this kind of message so important for discouraged and unsure employees, companies find it harder than ever to create a single, compelling story that cuts through the noise. And this isn’t good because inconsistent messaging about a company’s identity and direction can make the company appear at best disorganized and at worst disingenuous.
Why It’s Hard to Create a Company Story
Corporate communications teams – who are normally charged with coming up with a corporate narrative – tend to focus their energy on making the story itself perfect. And for good reason: they need a narrative that defines the company vision, inspires employees and others, but that doesn’t become irrelevant at the first shift in strategy, new acquisition, or change of senior executive.
The problem, however, is that the crucial part to making a success of the corporate narrative is what happens after you’ve written it: embedding it into the company culture. There are three reasons why companies struggle with this.
Lack of consensus: Communications team face an uphill battle to unify different perspectives and work around group dynamics to build a single narrative. At most companies, the corporate narrative is conceptualized, constructed, and approved by just a few individuals who often express conflicting or differing ideas.
Lack of understanding: Just having a corporate narrative does not guarantee its use; employees need to embrace the story and put it into action. Among those employees who are aware of the corporate narrative, 51% choose not to use it in their messages, according to CEB analysis.
The problem is a lack of understanding about the context for the narrative. Business leaders should help employees understand the shared behaviors, mindset, and language that defines the company’s vision.
Lack of widespread use: Contrary to expectations, the majority of employees who use the corporate narrative are not within communications or marketing. Employees in virtually all functions have the potential to communicate using the corporate narrative but this only works if the narrative reflects what they believe and do.
Three Steps to Get the Corporate Narrative Working
There are three ways for companies to get everyone to speak the same corporate language.
Incorporate user understanding: Business leaders cannot create corporate narratives by the usual market landscape, customer interviews and brainstorming sessions. The narrative must explain the company’s story, its vision for the future and how it wants to get there. As such, leaders must build a consensus about the narrative and ensure it reflects the everyday jobs and beliefs of the people who use it, not just the executives who developed it.
Supplement the narrative: An essential part of corporate narrative is supporting materials (e.g. FAQs) that offer opportunities for continued improvement. Workshops, conferences, and training are all parts of companies’ efforts to create a corporate narrative that employees can use and understand.
Make sure the message is compelling: A good corporate narrative sparks a personal connection with the company by focusing on the human context, not the business. And as in all human relationships, it requires honesty and reciprocity. Company leaders must create content to communicate the narrative internally (e.g., CEO speeches, intranet, news articles) and engage in a real dialogue with employees.