Your Organizational Narrative Should be a Living Document

Think Shift

Your company’s Vision, Mission and Values Statements were most likely driven by you, the CEO, and brought to life through a process of careful, thoughtful deliberation by senior leadership. Fast forward to 2019. How have they weathered? Are they words dimly recalled, dusty and forgotten, forlornly and crookedly hanging on the lunch room wall? Or are they sacred ideas that animate and empower?

By sacred, I mean “regarded with reverence” rather than “dedicated to a religious purpose.” Sacred is a good word to use because it can help us think more numinously about what our Vision, Purpose and Values really mean.

At its best, your story is really the following: A collection of ideas expressing the collective will of the organization to go somewhere bold (Vision), to bring unique value into existence for the benefit of a certain subset of humanity (Purpose) and a declaration of the principles those engaged in your organizational project embody as they walk the talk (Values).

There are three things leaders should do to move their organizational narrative from the profane to the sacred:

  1. Share your company story. In our leadership development workshops, we invite executives and managers to assess how well they play eight specific leadership roles – Visionary, Preacher, Strategist, Teacher, Manager, Coach, Sergeant and Worker. Most often, they find the least comfort in the Preacher role. Most leaders don’t preach the company narrative well. However, if you don’t preach it, neither will anyone else. Your story has the power to unite your team around a shared goal and vision, but you can’t keep your story alive unless you share it. Do it often and remember: you can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.
  2. Invite discussion. Give your people the forum and space to talk about what these ideas really mean as well as the behaviors and practices that support them. While this might seem obvious, we don’t see it done as often we should. In fact, as that old adage goes, “The biggest challenge with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.” It’s one thing to write down these ideas; it’s quite another to explore their impact and application. But doing so helps internalize these ideas and tap into refinements and nuances that were likely overlooked in the initial crafting. More importantly, it invites discussion, challenge, clarity and — most importantly — inclusion. In order for your story to knit your tribe together, the tribe must first see themselves in it and actively participate in discussions about it. At Think Shift, we accomplish this by hosting something we call “Fireside Chats.” These are optional and informal sessions between our employees and our senior leadership team meant to encourage conversations about our narrative and the policies and practices we use to operationalize it.
  3. Be open to changing your company narrative. It’s a mistake to consider the development of your story - your organizational narrative, a “one and done” exercise. It’s not a project once completed, to be moved on from. Few people get anything right the first time. Treating your company’s narrative as a living, evolving expression of the corporate endeavor will keep it relevant. Consider revisiting a different component of your story each year, in line with your strategy or operational planning cycle. Even if you opt not to evolve the narrative, the mere act of review will help remind you to share it.

In order to keep the underlying ideas in your organizational narrative sacred — to be worthy of reverence — it must be preached by leaders who care enough to share it often. Employees must be encouraged to actively engage with it and share their perspective and takeaways. And most importantly, narratives, like all organic things, improve as they evolve. Revisit it often and update it as you live with it and learn from it.

Only one document was ever carved in stone. It wasn’t yours.

Want to learn more about how an intentional and well-preached organizational narrative can benefit your company as a whole? Read our eBook, How CEOs Drive Lasting Change: 5 Steps to Drive Change from the Inside Out.


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