Developing a corporate narrative is one of the most important strategic tasks an organisation will ever undertake - but as a communication professional it can be amongst your most daunting.
Fortunately, the LGA’s corporate narrative toolkit is packed with advice and it helped me no end in delivering this at the fire and rescue service where I work.
To be clear - a corporate narrative isn’t an action plan, a re-brand or a brochure. It’s simply a great story, told well and truthfully, about your organisation. Having just been through this process and published my organisation’s story, here are my six tips:
1) Sort out your leaders
The words ‘corporate narrative’ can mean different things to different people, so working with your top team to establish exactly what they are looking for and the visible change they expect to see as a result of developing your organisation’s story is really important. Do this before you do anything else.
For us, after years of funding cuts and service changes, this was all about reminding staff who we are, what we’re good at, what’s important to us and why.
2) Only involve the people you need
It’s important to balance the need for consensus – a story that all the right key people feel they have influenced – against the challenge of ending up with a narrative that’s written by committee, feeling stodgy as a result.
Our approach was to hold focus groups with a representative sample of staff from across the organisation - seven in all. We got feedback on each on the key parts of our story and tweaked our content as a result. But we didn’t over do it and the final words were the work of just one person.
3) Ditch the jargon
Despite championing Plain English for years, I still find myself falling through the buzzword trap door from time to time - especially working for an emergency service where acronyms are a way of life. But we know that using clear, everyday language is key to getting our staff to understand and support our messages. So that’s what we focused on.
4) Go at your own pace
You’ll have a decision to make. Go for a ‘big bang’ launch - a huge fanfare of events, roadshows and posters to really make staff, public and partners aware that you’ve entered a bright new era. Or follow a phased approach - seeding the key parts of your story over a period of months, so they are more genuinely understood by your staff. We chose the latter.
5) Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate
Internal communication outcomes are notoriously hard to evaluate - but building in some simple measures right at the start of the process is key to knowing how successful you’ve been. We’ll be following these up in a few months' time to see how things have changed.
6) Bring it to life
Whilst comms teams unfairly get a bad rep as the department of fluff- don’t let this put you off sourcing the right creative support so that the materials you produce to tell your story properly pack a punch.
More than that, we wanted our story to inspire our staff so that every member of staff, regardless of rank or role, understands the part they play in what we do. To achieve this, we gathered some of the feedback from our focus groups and turned them into a poem. We then made this into a video which you can view for yourselves here:
Alexander Mills is Corporate Communication Manager at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue. He’s also a member of the LG Comms Executive Committee and FirePRO, a network for communication professionals working in the fire and rescue service.