Authenticity in business storytelling

November 24, 2010

I’m a great fan of the Gruen transfer, a show we have here in Australia.  In one of the episodes they talked about marketing spin and  said in marketing spin you take one truth and spin everything around it.  I was immediately struck by how business storytelling is the complete opposite of that.  Because for your storytelling to be successful, everything about it needs to be authentic.

So in this video let’s explore authenticity in organisational storytelling.  One of the first things to consider and this comes to us from Steve Denning, is your stories need to be both factually true as well as authentically true.

To illustrate this, Denning shares this example….’On the Titanic’s maiden voyage 700 people arrived in New York’.  This is factually true  but it leaves out the detail that the ship sank and 1500 people died.

So your story needs to be both factually true and authentically true.

The other thing to consider with authenticity in business, is that you as the storyteller need to believe in your story and its purpose – your intent needs to be authentic.

A few years ago we did some work with a leadership team that was outsourcing some of their work overseas and they were looking for stories to accompany  this.  When no stories emerged we asked them ‘can you honestly put your hand on your heart and say you believe this is the best thing for your company?’…..and they couldn’t.  So unless you believe in the purpose you are not going to have an authentic story.

The other point we want to draw from that example is not everything needs a story.  So use stories only if it is authentic to do so otherwise just go with the data….which is what that leadership team did.  They just went with the data about outsourcing their operations.

The last point to make about authenticity is congruence.  There needs to be a connection, there needs to be a congruence between your words and your actions.  When Cameron Clyne, (current CEO of National Australia Bank) became CEO, one of his early promises was to be open and approachable.  When Cameron Clyne was fairly new he attended one of the NAB’s internal events and took a seat down the back.  A lady who worked in IT approached him and said ‘Excuse me you are sitting in my seat’.   He immediately apologised and vacated her seat.  As soon as Cameron left some of the lady’s colleagues said ‘Do you know who that was?  The new CEO!’.  She said ‘You are kidding, no way why would he sit up in the back?’.    That story became one of the stories that started circulating in the bank and it showed people the congruence between Cameron’s words and his actions.

So just to recap …authenticity in storytelling is everything.  All your stories need to be authentic and when we are talking about authenticity we are asking you to consider these things.

Your stories need to be both factually true and authentically true.

You as a storyteller need to believe in the purpose of your story.

Use stories only if it is authentic to do so, otherwise just go with the data.

And finally for authentic storytelling you need congruence between your words and your actions.

We would love you to make a comment of when you have seen leaders who have been authentic or not with their storytelling.

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