Three steps to becoming an organizational storyteller


It has long been the case that much organizational communication-particularly outward communication-uses evocative and emotionally powerful stories to build its image and sell its products.

It is difficult to come across a service or product that is not accompanied by an evocative narrative that touches people's emotions as well as their minds. Businesses are also increasingly aiming to present themselves as the protagonists of grand narratives, sometimes epic sometimes more familiar and reassuring, but still stories.

"Once upon a time..."

Indeed, history has this great power to speak simultaneously to our reason as much as to our emotions. The latter have always been a key element of communication effectiveness, but in this time of global anxiety and concern, the ability to manage them effectively has become an increasingly in-demand skill.

In a time of great uncertainty-and increased isolation of people-maintaining constant communication, even at a distance, capable of speaking not only to the minds but also to the hearts of organizational actors can be a truly effective tool for supporting teams and individuals.

Stories convey values and "reinforce" the culture they express through evocative situations that are closer to people. Where "analytical" thinking processes quantitative data, the "discursive" thinking of storytelling is very effective in sharing norms, values and implicit knowledge using images and emotions that can reassure, develop confidence and a desire to engage: reason generates new ideas but it is storytelling that makes them understandable and motivates people to implement them.

If you have come this far in reading you should have found the answer to the question we started with so we come to the proposal of a few, simple steps to begin developing our storytelling skills.


Believe it or not, an essential point of storytelling is to have something to say: an idea, a concept, a thought.

We could say, therefore, that a good story comes from its ending, that is, the message the author wants to communicate.This happens when we think we have something to say, something to share, a message that has value for us and that we think may have value for others.

In the organizational sphere this starts at the "top" level: the company conveys its mission, its values through the story of its beginnings and the people who created and grew the organization.

This can happen, however, at all levels: an older colleague who wants to explain how relationships work within the team tells the newcomer a strange or amusing anecdote from everyday life about what goes on in the meeting; a manager tries to explain the reasons for a development plan to his or her employee by recounting his or her own experience when he or she was in his or her position years earlier; a team tries to gain strength in a difficult moment by recounting old successes in past situations.

In other words, if you want to do storytelling you must have something to say.


Human affairs are varied, complex and multifaceted, but the structure through which we narrate them is based on certain essential elements that they all possess.

To be called such, a story must therefore have:

All the stories told from the dawn of humanity to the present are built with these elements. There may be additional ones (such as, for example, the Helper(s) of the Protagonist) but these are the really essential ones.

A storyteller can use this structure with elements from his or her own life or from others' experiences that he or she knows well, but everything always starts with the message we want to convey.


Once we have the message and structure we are ready to go.

This would not seem like a difficult step to take; after all, we spend a lot of time telling stories.

However, when we want to do it with a specific goal, such as communicating a specific message, we may feel a little less confident and find ourselves uninspired.

As in all art forms-and storytelling is an art-if we are unfamiliar with it or do not have many ideas, the easiest way to learn is to copy from those who have gone before us: if we want to become good organizational storytellers, we can start by trying to convey our message in a "simplified" way, that is, by using "allegorical" images and references, i.e., not directly related to business reality but to which everyone can easily relate.

Let's try an example.

Let's start with a topic that is always relevant and important in organizations: the ability to effectively manage the change process.

As experienced professionals, we have experienced a number of organizational changes and, almost certainly, have a "model" in our heads related to this process. Let's assume that we want to introduce a younger, less experienced colleague to the stages of this process, the obstacles and best practices we know to best manage it.

One option might be to put in his hand an organizational behavior manual that analytically describes the path from state A to state B. A logical choice but not a particularly effective one: an organizational change touches us on several levels, and the cognitive one is the easiest to manage; as older colleagues, we would like to prepare our less experienced colleague for what can happen on an emotional level as well, so that he or she has an idea of the discontents, conflicts and contingencies that, inevitably, a change process entails.

Thus, a story seems the ideal tool to address the topic.

Are we sure we have a personal story that can make such a process in brief?

If the answer is yes, you have nothing to do but to start telling.

If the answer is no then you are probably in the most common situation: you have the experience of the whole process but it is the sum of several events that occurred in different situations and at different times--impossible to recount them all unless you have several hours to spare!

What to do then? A storyteller "in training" could organize his or her content in a form of "allegorical" storytelling, taking the structure we have presented but using fictitious images belonging to the same "imaginative" context so that we can tell our real content within a "symbolic" story.