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We were talking with a client recently about some upcoming work around the theme of Sales. I say theme because it was ‘sales’ in the broadest sense. They are a creative agency and they don’t have a sales function, so they wanted to find a way to give people the skills and the confidence to use their stories to grow the client base and build more business with the clients they already have. I get the challenge - how do you empower a diverse group of people to speak about their own experiences in the business as a way to build and nurture relationships, especially when they have all been there different lengths of time and do different roles? This is right in our ‘wheelhouse’, it was exactly something we could help them with…

However, before we put dates in the diary, things changed at their end. I got an email which said - ‘We need to take a pause, as it looks like we will be doing some restructuring…’. Restructuring. That dreaded euphemistic term in business. We all know that behind that word can be a world of pain for everyone involved. In difficult times, it means some difficult decisions will be made, generally with the objective of cutting costs, increasing efficiency and managing debt. It can be painful for those making the decisions, when it is their own business that they have built with love and care and attention on their people. And of course, it can be very painful for those who it impacts negatively, changing the terms of how they work, or losing their jobs.

I wrote back and said - ‘If that means what I think it does, then talk to us - we can help you with that too.’

Recently we had an experience coming into a company where they had just undergone some big drastic changes - some ‘restructuring’. And we could tell that people were feeling it. But the company’s focus was all forward-looking, projecting everyone into a positive vision of the future. This has value of course, but when everyone is reeling from the past and struggling with the present, then they can’t think about the future… You have to deal with the past and the present as well. Stories are about placing events into a context - past, present and future.

When people are given an opportunity to share experience with this thinking (to ‘story’ it), it allows them to process what has happened, helping them understand their experience on multiple levels. It also creates a space to connect to other people’s experience, finding commonality in different perspectives. When there is a lot of ‘noise’ in the business, creating a space where people can listen and be listened to is always extremely valuable. It needs attention.

Dan Milne CEO of Narativ London

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