Why Your Leadership Team Needs a Narrative (and How to Build It)

By: Andrés Oliveros

Alignment: Strategic and Rare

If you and your team aim to achieve significant goals—such as growth, innovation, or reinvention—it’s beneficial to be aligned around some fundamental ideas:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Why?
  • What decisions are you making to reach your goal?
  • What will you not pay attention to?
  • How will you measure success?

This is rarer than we think: the complexity of human communication, the infinite number of distractions, and the ever-changing nature of the environment makes it very difficult for everyone to be in harmony, even when it comes to the two or three most important ideas about a project.

What’s an easy way to find out if your team is aligned? Ask them. Dare to bring up the topic in your next weekly meeting and have them note it down without seeing each other’s responses.

If there is significant divergence, it’s very likely that alignment is lacking.

And if they’re not aligned,

how do you expect the sales, customer service, and product teams to be aligned? how do you expect the entire organization to make the best decisions, treat the customer the way you want them to, and solve problems with the same guiding principles as you?

Minimum Number of Ideas, Maximum Alignment

Since 2014, Astrolab has been experimenting with the concept of narratives, which we understand less as stories and more as a mental model, a direction, or an algorithm for decision-making.

A narrative consists of

the minimum number of ideas (three, four, five) that explain the essence of a movement, an organization, or a decision, with the goal of accelerating awareness and adoption.

At Astrolab, we follow the following process with our clients.

  • First, we facilitate a couple working sessions with the leadership team. The goal of these sessions is to understand the narrative elements already present in the group conversation.
  • Then, we have another workshop to define the most relevant elements.
  • After that, we map the different audiences and stakeholders: who has to know what and when
  • Finally, we help them design the launch strategy, leveraging group and network dynamics.

In this piece, we want to go beyond and discuss the elements of an organizational or strategic narrative.

Elements of a Narrative

If you decide to work on creating a narrative, make sure to do it with your team of founders and leaders. A good narrative offers many benefits, but perhaps the most important is that it reduces the cognitive effort of leaders: behaviors and decisions begin to be driven by System 1 rather than System 2, in the words of Daniel Kahneman.

Find a space of about two to three hours together and answer these four questions that ultimately address the questions of why, how, and what we are doing:

Vision: What do we want to achieve as an organization?

(Astrolab) We want to make it easy for our clients to build relationships and influence people.

Problem, Opportunity or Insight: Why do we do this? What problem do we want to solve for our client?

(Astrolab) Many strategies, decisions, and projects die before prematurely or get stuck, and this hinders organizational growth.

Decision or Identity: What did we decided? Who are we and what do we do?

(Astrolab) We are a communications training agency that helps corporate leaders install or use storytelling in their organizations as a way of accelerating awareness.

Strategy: How are we going to win? Who do we need to convince?

(Astrolab) We help leaders become better storytellers through INSPIRA, and we help them launch new strategic initiatives through STRATEGIC NARRATIVES.

What sets this apart from typical statements? A narrative

  • is meant to be orally told, making it easier to remember;
  • has the potential for narrative transportation, a mental process where attention, imagery, and emotions merge; and because
  • integrates the elements and makes them actionable.

Once you decide on the elements and an approximate wording, ask each member of your team to turn them into a 90-second speech.

Who does it best? Who isn’t being concise, clear, and structured? Which parts make little sense? Which are fundamental? What are we missing? 

The narrative needs to be brief and easily memorable, not just for memorability’s sake, but because it needs to be easily recalled and kept in mind when making decisions or discussing your project.

Socialize It

Once your leadership team is aligned around a narrative, socialize it with the rest of the organization.

By socializing, I mean to communicate it at least ten times to each audience, so that most of your employees go through the natural process we all go through from hearing an idea for the first time to making it our own.

Here are some basic ideas to socialize it:

  • Share it with the entire organization in a town hall meeting.
  • Incorporate it into the onboarding process.
  • Organize weekly working sessions for small groups to learn how to turn it into different messages.
  • Include it in your presentations, on your networks, and on your website, not as decoration, but as something that helps start conversations about it.

Advanced suggestions:

  • Create a limited podcast where you dedicate an episode to each element: What is the element? How did you arrive at that wording? Examples of how that looks in day-to-day situations.
  • Record video capsules with stories about how the narrative is used in different scenarios (hiring processes, learning, and development, performance reviews, customer interactions, etc.).
  • Prepare a web app that serves as reference material for your entire organization.

Storyteller in Chief

What are you aiming for with all of this? Consider this. What does the success of your organization, decision, or initiative depend on? To a large extent, it depends on your ability to coordinate the imagination, decisions, and will of others.

You can try it with rewards and punishments, but it’s more organic and sustainable to do it with a narrative. I’ll close with this quote from a Harvard Business Review article that I’ve returned to many times in recent years:

To change the culture and move into new growth areas, the CEO needs to become “the storyteller in chief,” says Aetna’s Mark Bertolini. That means telling different aspects of the same transformation narrative to all the constituencies and stakeholders in the company.

It’s your turn!

About the author

Andrés Oliveros


Andrés le ayuda a líderes a aumentar su influencia usando storytelling - LinkedIn Top Voice 💬

17 de May de 2023

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4 months ago

Thanks for sharing. I read many of your blog posts, cool, your blog is very good.

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