Organizations tell a lot of stories.
And with each story they tell they have an opportunity to add texture and details that make their brand richer, more nuanced, more meaningful for their audience.
But there’s a catch.
Unless these stories build on an underlying structure, they’ll lack power, fail to scale and eventually, will lose steam.
A narrative creates the framework that can bind these stories together.
Deb Lavoy, CEO and founder of Narrative Builders, spoke about the power narratives provide business leaders — in terms of alignment and scale — during the first of the DX Leaders Webinar series, sponsored by censhare and Cxense.
Why We Should Think Narrative First
Lavoy used Star Trek to illustrate the difference between narrative and story.
With a basic knowledge of the plot line’s elements: the cast, the setting, the main motivation driving the characters — “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” most people could create an infinite number of variations.
The founding elements are the narrative; the variations are the stories.
Business leaders (hopefully) have a firm grasp on the core narrative of their company. But if employees don’t share that clarity, the vision doesn’t scale.
All work requires more effort and involvement on the part of managers to tell every story — and loses out on the special nuances and insights every one of your employees can add to the stories your brand tells.
As Lavoy put it, “if you’re doing this well, everyone in your organization can look at their context or situation and make decisions the way you would because they’re thinking it through, they’re interpreting events the way you would.”
‘Off-Centered Beer for Off-Centered People’
Milton, Del.-based Dogfish Head Brewery's narrative permeates every aspect of the company.
From the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote painted on the side of its headquarters — to the partnerships it makes with non-profits to the events it organizes to the flavors of beer it brews — all build upon each other to create a portrait of the "off-centered beer for off-centered people."
And while it might not be unusual to have products and partnerships align with an organization's narrative, the true test came when Lavoy stayed at the Dogfish Inn.
Some reading material was set out on the coffee table in the room Lavoy rented — typical enough.
But the titles showed the attention to detail that could only have come from a deep understanding of what the company stood for: Pallet, a literary beer magazine, and a copy of beat poet Allen Ginsburg's "Howl."
Do you, as a business leader, have enough time to send out memos on details like this?
No one does. That's why you want everyone to be able to tell your stories for you, in every decision they make.
What You Can Do
Not every company will have a narrative. Many won't.
A webinar audience member asked Lavoy if companies busy telling stories without the underlying narrative needed to scrap everything and start from scratch.
The answer was a definitive "no."
"Look for the common denominators in your stories," Lavoy advised, "Sort out the thinking — aspirational, tactical — the qualities that bring that out. Then you can find the fundamental core framework that you can hang those previous stories from and that allow you to tell many, many more to come."
When constructing a narrative, Lavoy suggested returning to founding documents and charters as a springboard to remember the original motivation.
While it may have been true at one point that a company needed a charismatic leader to have a strong narrative, Lavoy said this was no longer the case. Businesses can measure and intentionally construct their narrative, basing it on the work that came before, the work that exists and the perception your audience — customers, employees, partners — has of your brand.
The only people who lose out in this scenario are micromanagers because as Lavoy said, "you will be scaling your vision and leadership in ways that micromanagement will not allow."