Sustainability storytelling in all its guises is being increasingly adopted by companies all over the world. Some are brilliant at this whilst others lack consistency and originality. Putting aside the debate over ‘green washing’ for now, storytelling is something that many organisations struggle with in general.
If you’re looking ahead to the new decade thinking, “there’s so much more we could be doing”, or, “Our customers really don’t connect with our sustainability communications” then read our helpful summary of the guide entitled ‘Shaping Your Organisation’s Narrative Infrastructure’ from Embedding Project. You can read and use the full guide here.
“The guide is based on four years of research and over 100 interviews exploring the impact of organisational narratives and how change agents helped to shift them to better support strategic decision-making aligned with sustainability.”
NARRATIVE INFRASTRUCTURE is the collection of ideas, stories, and metaphors that shapes what is considered to be important in an organisation.
SUPPORTING STORIES provide specific examples of events and experiences that give meaning to one or more organisational narratives.
Understanding the current narratives that inform decision-making in your company is the first step. This will involve both formal organisational narratives in marketing materials as well as informal shared norms across the business. This understanding should include a reflection of the inconsistencies between the formal and informal narratives. Similarly, a balanced approach will include narratives that are critical of the organisation and not just the positive bits.
From your analysis of current narratives, the following questions need to be answered:
- Which narratives are serving the strategy well? and;
- Which are not having the desired impact?
Amplify – Can existing narratives be amplified or redeployed?
Deconstruct – Should existing narrative infrastructure be suppressed?
Connect – Can existing narratives be bridged? Should new narrative infrastructure be created and connected?
“Think here about the ways in which existing and new narrative infrastructure might be connected. For example, connecting two existing narratives on quality and partnerships can help to show how collaborating on sustainability efforts can improve the quality of your product offering.”
“If you find that amplifying, connecting or deconstructing existing narratives is not sufficient, you may need to consider introducing a new organisational narrative.”
There are many other reasons to consider a new narrative at this point other than the gaps that already exist in the current narrative infrastructure. For example, are there internal or external push factors that need to be addressed for the long-term success of the organisation?
Once you’ve defined your changes or entirely new direction using simple language, it’s important to then connect existing narratives or plan for new supporting stories to bring your narrative to life.
Achieving the desired changes to your narrative infrastructure requires a company-wide, integrated commitment to ensure its successful roll-out.
- Including key messages and supporting stories in formal communication i.e. company magazines and reports
- Short videos for internal audiences
- Encourage managers to share supporting stories
- Set aside dedicated time for employees and leaders to discuss and debate the shifting narrative infrastructure and supporting stories in facilitated workshops.
If you’re interested in understanding more, the original white paper is available here which also includes a workbook to help guide you through the 4 step process.
Schulschenk. J, and Bertels, S. (2020) Shaping Your Organisation’s Narrative Infrastructure Embedding Project.
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By Callum Rees, Strategic Account Manager at SustainIt