Experts Talk: The Corporate Narrative

This month’s edition of ‘Experts talk’ lifts the lid on the corporate narrative – how companies motivate and inspire their people through the story and values of a company.

Account Director and HR communication expert, Chris Andrew gives his views on what really matters when it comes to creating a compelling corporate narrative internally.

Why the corporate narrative matters

The term ‘corporate narrative’ is a big theme many businesses are focussing on. In your experience, what are the critical factors companies need to address when drawing up a strategy?

Chris: One of the most essential factors is ensuring your approach is not ‘top down’. Ideally, a variety of people from all levels should be involved in the creation of the narrative. Secondly, it must be driven by the corporate culture or environment you wish to create in the workplace. But most of all, your narrative must be genuine, transparent and authentic.

Why do you think a corporate narrative so important for business?

Chris: People are increasingly interested in the story behind a business. They care about who they are buying from and who they are working for. It gives people – and consumers – a purpose. Ultimately, it means employees can bring in-line their own values and ethics towards the company’s goal. Defining and communicating a well-articulated story, gives clarity on what you stand for, and emotionally embeds people into the organisation.

Why is the corporate narrative so important for HR? What benefits does it reap?

Chris: HR is often – and wrongly - seen as a support function rather than a fundamental pillar of business. But when the ‘people department’ connects a corporate narrative to its communication strategy, it binds a holistic link between organisational goals, people and the workplace environment. It humanises the employer brand; making people feel proud and inspired to work there. HR should always personalise their approach and bring the narrative in-line with corporate goals. Otherwise, you’re sending mixed messages …..and I’d never recommend that!

Who should ideally be involved in the creation?

Chris: Leaders – you need to show that key stakeholders are as passionate about the company story as others.
HR and marketing – both are responsible for brand reputation and messaging. One is obviously more led by the people of the organisation, whilst the other brings a creative flair to communication.
Cross-section of employees – as mentioned before, it can’t be a ‘top down’ process. You need to make the story real and authentic. The ‘voice’ of the narrative should always involve people from all levels.

Industry insight

What are the key trends emerging?

Chris: In general, companies are being more natural when it comes to communicating the narrative which is great. The need of having a brand purpose has also energised this trend. Industry leaders are moving away from sending too many communications (as most get missed); and are streamlining their existing comms to piggyback on messages. As a result, I'm seeing a significant reduction in siloed HR communication campaigns.

When it comes to future-facing trends, contextual personalisation is absolutely at the heart of it. It’s all about making your message relevant and meaningful to individuals. Using HR data to contextualise your corporate narrative in the employee lifecycle is the Holy Grail!

Are there any companies taking the corporate narrative to ‘another level’?

Chris: Unilever is a particularly good example. The company has a very clear corporate narrative and internal brand which is unusual for FMCGs (that have lots of brands). It’s truly embraced and nurtured inside of the business. Their HR and Comms teams put the narrative ‘through the lens’ to see if business decisions and strategies are aligned with it. Whether it’s tech, Reward or performance, they review all decisions against it for brand consistency.

How do you measure its success?

Chris: Before you start, you need to have a clear objective in mind. Ask yourself, “Where do you want to get to? And what is the impact for our people?” System analytics is never enough to form an unbiased and clear-cut opinion on performance. Set clear measures at the start and check-in regularly to see how you are progressing. What often works well is using regular pulse surveys to monitor progress and gauge mood. Also, consider applying sentiment analytics (keyword analysis) too.

Finally, what are your top three tips for embedding a successful corporate narrative company-wide?

1. Understand your audience – always do your research to humanise your story. Make it relevant to the individuals.
2. Have a clear set of goals – what are you looking to achieve?
3. Be consistent with your message – you need to live and breathe it