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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisabeth Medlock

Five Stories You Should Be Telling

#Communicating and #connecting with community, clients or customers is often done through the sharing of #storieses. Big #vision, Human, #Impact, #Backstory and #Learning are stories you should be telling.

Communicating and connecting with others, whether it be community, clients or customers, is often done through the sharing of stories. Stories are powerful ways to gain understanding, to find shared meaning, to pass down knowledge or tradition, to build solidarity and commitment and to internalize and process change.

There are parts, or chapters, to the story of an organization. Each is important to tell, but the audience and purpose may differ. And like an illustrated book, each story can be accompanied by visuals that reinforce the narrative. Note that the types of stories pertain to individuals also.

1) The Big vision Story: This is the story that illustrates how an organization will impact the world. It is often communicated trough the story of the vision-the big picture for the future. It goes beyond the vision statement to articulate what that vision looks like; how the organization looks and behaves, how the community operates, or how clients or customers have changed in the future. Think about a movie trailer that begins with “in a world where….” and describe that future world. Telling the big vision story creates buy in and support from others who have a similar vision or desire a similar future. For example, it is one thing to say your vision is that re is no violence against women. It is another to tell a story of a world where women feel safe everywhere they go or work, where women are portrayed as strong and capable instead of as objects, where boys are taught to respect girls and there are no gender stereotypical expectations, etc., etc.

2) The Human Story: This is the story that articulates the values and principles of an organization-what it stands for, what it is all about. It is the story of its leadership and its people. The human story is the one that creates feelings of connectedness and understanding. It allows people to see organizational values in operation through action. In some cases, for some people, their connection with the values and principles is more powerful than their commitment to the vision or impact. It’s like Mark Cuban on Shark Tank. He invests in people he believes in, even though he may not like their product or the business model. Telling the human story creates commitment, cohesion and builds identity because shared values and beliefs create a shared purpose and passion. Everyone in the organization is not only part of the story, but is also telling the story.

3) The Backstory: This is the story of the road travelled to the present. It is the story of the founding of the organization, the start-up, the early days. In this story people can connect to why the organization exists, for what purpose, and the milestones that mark its growth. Where you came from is always a story we are asked to tell. The backstory is a way others can relate to insights, experiences, struggles, and triumphs. The backstory, especially the founding story, can be inspirational am enlightening. It connects people to the problem an organization is trying to solve and the new or innovative way it sought to solve it.

4) The Impact Story. This is the story of an organizations’ outcomes, results and successes. A story about impact is not just a presentation of data or facts. The internet floods us with fast facts (or fun facts as my daughter would say), information and data. It is quickly available, sometimes flawed and often open to interpretation. Story moves beyond data by connecting it to insights and then to action. It makes sense of the numbers by telling the story of what it all means and how it was acted on. The visualization of data through charts and graphs, paired with a narrative, can engage people and help them truly understand impact. The impact story also includes personal narratives that tell the story of the data through client/customer accounts. For example, you can talk about and present data on how your clients obtained jobs and were able to obtain stable housing and pair this with a story of one of your clients and their path to those outcomes.

5) The Learning Story: This is the story of how organizations learn from mistakes and how changes are implemented as a result: Central in everyone’s story is the story of how we fell down, but got back up and were the better for it. The story of learning from mistakes or failure tells much about the culture of the organization. It demonstrates integrity and a willingness to tell the truth. It also shows that the organization has a mechanism to detect when mistakes occur so they are not repeated. The learning story should show that an organization can ask itself what happened, why, what was done well and what was not done well. It should tell the story of the process for getting to solutions, without blaming individuals, that led to growth and change.

There are other chapters of the book-the story of a new process or program unfolding, the story of major donors and champions, etc. But the five stories discussed are key to effective organizational storytelling. Stories are remembered, they are tools for teaching and learning, and they created shared meaning, purpose, and commitment. It is no mistake that the last line sung in the play Hamilton is “Who tells your story?”

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