Your Organization is a Story

Articulate Your Values and Goals

The hardest thing for people to remember sometimes is that trust is built on shared or understood values and perspectives. So while it perhaps used to be the case that your organization could simply be, or simply do, that's just not the case anymore. High levels of competition and a busy, media and image-saturated society make clearly articulating who you are just as important as articulating what you do. In fact, who you are should define and determine what you do. Otherwise, people won't understand it. Your business identity and strategy should be connected and clearly communicated.

Your Stakeholders are Everything

Knowing your stakeholders means two things: knowing who you're talking to, and knowing who's listening (and those are definitely not always the same thing). Stakeholders come from these general groups:

  1. People that run and operate your organization, from c-suite to new employees. It's important to remember that you need to communicate what your organization stands for, is doing, and is trying to do at every step of the organizational chart. The details of strategy might be a guarded secret, but you should always hope for an employee to hear about a new initiative and say "wow, that's cool. I never would have thought of that, but it makes total sense!" The last thing you want to hear is "here we go again. I wonder how long this is going to last?" 
  2. Investors, granting agencies, donors, etc. Knowing what you're trying to do helps outside organizations understand where you're headed, even if they don't understand exactly how you're getting there. It also helps them forgive mistakes or failures as part of a growing or experimenting process. If there is a fundamental, key story and strategy, that process is to be expected. If there isn't, it seems like you're throwing stuff at a wall and hoping something sticks. Explaining how you're measuring and evaluating that strategy is also connected to the story, and these organizations want to know that as well. If you're most interested in making money, then that's a problem if you fall short one quarter, or if you don't show consistent growth. If you're interested in making money by developing innovating health solutions, then falling short might simply be the result of research and development, or investments in talent, etc. If these goals are formed and consistent with what your outside organizations believe in, then they'll feel connected to you in a whole different way. It's about speaking their language, and reaching them where they live.
  3. The people and groups that might use and comment on what you offer. Your customers and clients aren't always right, but they're always important. If they don't know that you're consistent and that you stand behind your values, if they don't feel that those values and goals stem from an underlying reason for being, then they might reject you. They surely won't feel loyalty towards you. This puts you at risk not only of losing customers to the next trend or in a bidding war, but it also puts you at risk of massive problems if some sort of crisis occurs. Understanding what your stakeholders want, need, fear, and hope for, as well as what their everyday lives are like, allows you to articulate your story and your organization's vision in a way that makes sense to them. We all have our own languages; make sure your story is phrased in your stakeholders' languages, not just your own. 
  4. The people who will not use, but are still invested in, what you do or offer. Like it or not, the story of your organization reaches beyond your investors and clients. This could be a good thing, in that you might expand your base or scale. In other words, it means opportunity. On the other hand, it could mean potential outside interference, and attention that might distract key stakeholders from connecting with your brand. Our personal values, our relationships with each other and the environment, and our shared experiences all come into play with our stories. This doesn't mean that we should be apolitical (not making a choice is still a choice), or try to please everyone, or be afraid to make hard decisions. What it does mean is that taking a stand connects us strongly to certain people, and will alienate others. However, if we concentrate on what positive elements of our brand identity result in a certain decision, and if those same traits are found in those that oppose our decision, then at least they can see it comes from a good place. Listening and trying to understand is itself a gesture of trust.