The Benefits of Building a Narrative Organization
The value of narrative in your organization extends well beyond telling stories in your annual report and newsletters.
The value of narrative in your organization extends well beyond telling stories in your annual report and newsletters. When an organization embraces narrative and applies it throughout its work, brand identity is clear and appealing; audiences are quickly and sustainably engaged; leaders appreciate and strategically share stories; and knowledge is easily gathered and shared.
A closer look at the benefits:
Stories help to make seemingly indefinable and intangible organizational values and attributes (such as unity and sustainability) concrete and tangible.
In every organization, there is the big story—the organizational narrative—and the smaller stories that support, reiterate, and personalize the larger narrative. Your organization’s narrative is at the core of its values, mission, and actions. Your brand is strengthened when the smaller stories are consistently refreshed and shared. LIVESTRONG, formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation, offers a terrific example of a strong organizational narrative, consistently supported with stories from cancer survivors and caregivers.
Your brand identity can be created, strengthened, and explored by asking: What stories are we sharing about ourselves? What stories are other people sharing about us?
There’s no better way to humanize your organization than through stories about the people involved—clients, donors, staff, etc. People engage with people, not with amorphous entities. By sharing stories, you are engaging your audiences in hearing, understanding, and remembering your organization’s larger narrative. And, because stories are more memorable than disassociated facts, they spread more easily.
When you share your organizational stories, make sure you are able to hear the stories that you will elicit in return. Story begets story, and a narrative organization will engage audiences by allowing for multiple channels of true conversation. Start sharing, and listening, and asking: What themes are emerging from the stories we are hearing? What stories are resulting in real engagement?
Sharing authentic stories helps build credibility and trust, and develop and deepen relationships with funders, colleagues, and other stakeholders. Stories facilitate and perpetuate conversation, and help people get heard.
Stories also help smart leaders introduce the meaning of new projects and products. In a narrative organization, leaders are skilled in linking current projects and challenges to the narrative of the organization’s past, present, and future.
Story is now even more important to leadership, given the multitude of platforms for both expression and intake; audiences are distracted and fragmented, and having one strong narrative—communicated through discrete stories and across multiple outlets—is crucial to communicating vision, conquering complexity, and inspiring change.
Stories provide a practical and sustainable structure for sharing knowledge and revealing connections between seemingly disconnected information. Stories illustrate quantitative data, yield insight into lessons learned, and surface tacit knowledge. Stories also help both internal and external audiences make sense of the huge amounts of data organizations often hold.
The Vera Institute of Justice, an organization devoted to justice policy and practice, uses story to share knowledge both internally as well as externally, as evidenced in their blog.
Start sharing stories, listening, and learning. Build a narrative organization and reap the benefits of strong and authentic identity, leadership, and engagement.