Telling Your Enterprise Story

DECEMBER 1 / Donna Kennedy-Glans

The telling of a heartfelt story motivates action like nothing else. What is your enterprise story? What lessons are there in your organization’s history and culture, and how can you apply them to the challenges of a changed world? And how are others hearing your enterprise story?

 Retelling your enterprise story opens up your imagination to fresh ways of thinking and seeing. It reconnects you to your organization’s core values and mission, and it can be revitalizing and sense-making. A story about your enterprise has a different aim than a fact-filled report or a marketing brochure. Accurate facts inform and strategic marketing sells, but a meaningful story resonates.  

How do you tell your enterprise story? Start by asking questions such as: Why was this enterprise created? Who were its founders? How have the organization’s purpose and culture evolved over time? Explore key facts about the owners and the leaders, strategies implemented along the enterprise journey.  How have the enterprise’s core values changed over time? At what points in time did the organization thrive, and why? In the face of opportunity or distress, how were the enterprise’s choices and values the same as, or different from, those of its competitors and peers? Are there any regrets about choices not made or paths not taken?  

Telling your version of the enterprise’s story is not about revisionist history, nor is it a rebranding exercise. It’s about being authentic and honest, deepening your understanding of values held dearly. Telling your enterprise story, in your own words, can serve as a compass for others—to communicate core values and to guide decisions and actions.  

It’s essential to script and tell your own enterprise story. But be prepared. There will be other versions of your narrative out there; the story that is heard is often out of your control. So, who else is telling your enterprise story? Mainstream media. Documentary producers. Activists on social media. Citizens in local communities. Your enterprise’s ability to have its story heard, understood and believed depends on how others sift through all the competing stories to find the truth.  

People often ask: What an organization can do to control their own narrative? Decades ago, an enterprise could control its own story with well-funded public relations campaigns. To be absolutely clear, those days are long gone. Even the most profitable companies—including Amazon—cannot stop others from telling a different version of their enterprise story.  

Over the last decade, I’ve observed a growing trend toward self-censorship—people inside organizations afraid to speak up and tell their story—and frankly, it’s worrying. No enterprise controls its own story in a world of social media and citizen journalists; nonetheless, getting your team’s perspectives into the mix is important.  

Whether your enterprise is a for-profit company, a non-profit providing a service to others, or a government department or agency, you can inspire others in your organization to tell their personal version of your enterprise story and to tell it well. Values of any enterprise are best articulated, and even more powerful when embodied in the stories we tell.  

Chapter 6: Make Stewardship Part of Your Enterprise Story, Teaching the Dinosaur to Dance: Moving beyond Business as Usual