How and why to use the story of your business to build engagement and purpose


The birth of the business and the founders’ hopes highlight the DNA.  The early and crises years add colour, athenticity and credibility.  The recent past acknowledges the importance of current people and sets up a discussion of what needs to change.  Click here for the guide on mapping history.


What can you do to make people happier at work?

The focus for a knowledge cafe1 (facilitated by David Gurteen at Portcullis House in Westminster) threw up some valuable insights and reflections.

James Brown the business psychologist kicked off with some personal stories and highlights of the growth in poor mental health identified by the CIPD.  For example, in 2017, 55% of organisations in 2017 reported mental health conditions have increased.  The figure was 41% in 2016.

The knowledge cafe itself led to a great conversation.  James has posted about it here.  What I took from it was:

  • How important it is for each of us to think about our personal purpose and find ways to integrate what we do at work with who we are
      • Aimee Campbell from Unilever told me about some of the work that they were doing to encourage people to reflect on their own personal purpose and what it meant for them.  
  • The importance of celebrating success and learning from what we do well 
      • James Brown talked about the work the NHS is doing to Learn from Excellence and find ways to report positively so that the organisation learns and so that people recognise what is great about their work, and not be subsumed by the stresses and challenges of everyday work and some of the negative press that surrounds mistakes
  • Giving people a voice 
      • Some one said that there is nothing like a change programme to silence peoples’ voices.  
      • We debated the difficulty during change work of of being open to listening while maintaining a new course, and how leaders need to remember to keep re-stating the reasons and rationale for change so that people do not lose sight of that even, as they do not like some of the implications for how it affects them
  • The problems caused by social media 
      • Social media encourages people to value immediacy, fame and “good news” rather than reflection, substance and reality (note to self: what do you expect a bunch of people involved in a knowledge cafe to value?).  Does this contribute to the rise in poor mental health highlighted by James Brown at the start of the meeting? 
  • Less face time:
      • It is getting more and more difficult to give people face to face time in a global, digital business environment.  How can we mitigate the problems this causes?  How can we make time for it, or improve the digital experience so that our group screen to screen time offers the same value as group face to face time.  Is this even possible?

On this last point David Gurteen talked about how he was using Zoom to get high value conversations using the Knowledge Cafe methodology.

1 A final word to plug David Gurteen’s knowledge cafe.  This is an open, conversation based approach to learning.  Responding to a core question – e.g. what can you do to make people happier at work? – people gain insights in multiple small conversations followed by a plenary round circle.  It is a very powerful approach for personal learning. 

#knowledgecafe #mentalhealth #employeeengagement #resonantleadership

Every team, group and organisation needs clarity about its purpose.   This chart explores questions that are helpful in uncovering purpose.  Use this to start a quality purpose-defining conversation within a team at any level in an organisation, or within an association or community group.


What is the difference between Mission and Purpose and Vision?

Having a strong sense of Purpose that inspires people makes a real difference as our recent webinar explained.  But on that webinar about creating and sharing Purpose there were lots of questions about terminology.  It is clearly an area that causes confusion.  Most clients need to spend time on this and many different companies use the terminology in different ways.  Here are some useful definitions.  What is important is that you decide what makes sense to you and then use the terminology consistently.

Mission and Purpose

These are used interchangeably but think of Mission as What we are here to do and Purpose as Why.  Mission for Google is: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,”

Samsung introduces a “why” into their Mission Statement: “To inspire the world with our innovative technologies, products and designs that enrich people’s lives and contribute to social prosperity by creating a new future.”

The “why” is important and it usually refers to who we are doing things for.  It provides the inspiration.  In other words, why the “what” is worth doing.   For Google it is about making information available to everyone.  For Samsung it is about enriching lives and creating prosperity.

Now look at Amazon: “To be the Earth’s most customer centric company where people can find and discover anything they want.”  You see the same pattern of a What and a Why.


This is about what the world will look like when we are successful.  Google describe their vision as “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.”  Sounds pretty much like the mission to me.  Both Samsung and Amazon describe their Vision as their Missions.  But there is a difference.  Compare how Oxfam and Vodafone describe their purpose and their vision”


Purpose: “To help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty. We are part of a global movement for change, one that empowers people to create a future that is secure, just, and free from poverty.”

Vision: “A just world without poverty: a world in which people can influence decisions that affect their lives, enjoy their rights, and assume their responsibilities as full citizens of a world in which all human beings are valued and treated equally.”


Purpose: “To connect everybody to live a better today and build a better tomorrow.”

Vision: “A converged communications leader, a Gigabit Vodafone for the Gigabit Society.”

There are differences but clearly there is a close link between why we are here and what the world looks like as a result of our presence.  Both vision and mission are designed to help clarify and inspire.

Read more

Michael Gove famously claimed that Britain had had enough of “Experts.”  Whether he is right or not a lot of change involves venturing into new territory.  New ways of working require people to work together to learn from each other.  The Ideas Exchange is an approach to learning used with members of the International Association […]

1. People want meaning not money People who spend money on others are happier – around the world.  Giving is a universal human driver.  “Pro-social spending and happiness” is a study conducted by Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Aknin and Michael Norton in February 2014.  Research shows that people with more money are somewhat happier than those […]

On November 28 I met with a mix of IABC UK members and guests to discuss the challenges and issues raised by Fake News. Facilitated by the superb and provocative Ezri Carlebach people heard from five speakers for five minutes each. Spin and misinformation Jane Mitchell, is a specialist on business ethics, and she talked […]

Common challenges you’ve probably noticed

Digital development is demanding change in the way businesses are run and how they interact with their audiences and their employees. No matter what sector you’re in, you’re likely to be facing at least one of these challenges:

  • Teams have less face-time as people share, work and interact more remotely.
  • Employees and customers are enjoying new relationships with employers and brands as we move to self-serving models: this creates the need to rethink communication and engagement with employees and how we structure customer service roles.
  • Employees want more opportunities to work with their employers to give back to society and the communities they serve.
  • Organisations want more agile approaches with empowered employees who understand both company strategy and customer needs.


A solution starts with a conversation

Solving these issues requires processes that connect leaders, managers, project teams and front-line staff.

The traditional top down approach is hopelessly inadequate, especially in large organisations. A cascade approach is too slow when there are multiple levels of management and a complex organisational structure. “Top down” also contradicts the message that organisations need to empower their people to take more responsibility for the delivery of satisfaction and productivity.

Achieving that kind of collaboration across an organisation puts a premium on the need for quality conversations – conversations that help people work out how they can support strategic direction. The kind of conversation that encourages people to challenge, work out what they need to do to support change, and feel a high degree of ownership of the outcomes of the conversation.


Exploring the visualisation of strategy

Couravel has been using Big Pictures to help leaders define strategy and then to help teams engage with strategy. The power of visual representation of strategic and market issues is well proven. It was first written about in the Sears case study in the Harvard Business Review which introduced the Service-Profit Chain. At Sears, groups came to a better understanding of the marketplace and what they needed to do to support competitiveness by addressing questions posed by a visual representation of the High Street.

To explore its relevance today we asked 15 leaders from different businesses how developments in technology would affect their business in the next five years. Using ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) Consensus Workshop approach, they grouped their answers into seven main themes:

  • Collaborative working
  • Liberating structures
  • Empowered customers
  • Dynamic skill sets
  • Disruptive markets
  • New world of risks
  • Big data.


Transformation challenges to address

We then invited them to draw these themes and use their insights and imagination to create a synthesis picture in real time.

The textual list below presents information related to transformational challenges, while the picture conveys the same information visually:

  • Always on and changing working patterns – timing and geography no longer blockages
  • Feedback is instant and we have to respond instantly
  • Enable paradigm shift in service design and operation – focus on understanding and improvement
  • Creating new skills to cope with technology change
  • Using data to inform decisions
  • Defining and mitigating new risks caused by over-reliance on technology
  • Identifying and responding to new competitive challenges



What this gives the organisation is a visual representation of Digital Transformation and what it needs to do to navigate change.

To involve people in a conversation about how to respond to these challenges, the visual route represents an engaging starting point because it:

  • Invites people to interpret what is going on
  • Is easier to access (you do not need to understand jargon like “paradigm shift”)
  • Provides information more quickly
  • Leads to a less critical and more curious audience (lists invite a more critical, sceptical response).

Conversations around the visual

What is more important than the visual are the conversations around it; and they must be well facilitated. The visual becomes the focus for a conversation whereas questions draw people out.

For example, questions we used following the ORID framework of ICA’s ToP Focussed Conversation method include:

  • What can you see in the picture? What else? (Objective)
  • How do you feel about what you can see? Anything surprising, confusing? (Reflective)
  • Where do you see yourself fitting? (Reflective)
  • What could this picture mean for how we work with each other and our colleagues in other teams? (Interpretative)
  • What risks do you think technology creates for us? (Interpretative)
  • How might we be able to mitigate these risks? (Interpretative)
  • How could we use new capabilities to provide better services for our customers? (Interpretative)
  • What does that mean we need to do differently? (Decisional)

Using pictures to lead the conversation around Digital Transformation

This led to some penny-dropping moments for people involved in the leadership of change. For example:

  • It is increasingly difficult to define and think in terms of “visions” as these rapidly become outdated in the face of global and disruptive competition.
  • Consultants working with clients are experiencing their own journey of change through the digital landscape and the relationship between client and consultant needs to shift from the expert to the consultative model (i.e. where facilitators operate most effectively)
  • This is also true of the relationship between customers and suppliers generally, but the changes are complex. In some respects, the relationship becomes more transactional and customers interface with technology to get what they want. This scenario sees people losing jobs as machines and robots take them over. But in other respects, the roles become more demanding and complex as the relationship becomes more akin to partnering: when customers want help it is because the technology cannot address more complex challenges (notice the bridge between suppliers and clients that is itself on wheels and constantly changing)
  • The value of tangible, visual outcomes that can engage people more because they are visual, different and not prescriptive and that can convey some of the nuances and challenges of change (notice the trolls waiting to sabotage change work)
  • The widespread application for approaches like this (see below).


Rethinking how we think about change

We need to rethink the process of change. If we want people to let go of past practices we have to pay more attention to the way individuals respond to change. To encourage people to collaborate to define new practices, here are a few “must haves”:

  • Fun
  • Novelty
  • Laughter
  • Celebration of past achievements
  • Reflection time
  • Generating our own ideas
  • Feeling valued and connected


Using the Technology of Participation facilitation approach and visual thinking tools such as Big Pictures, we can create the kind of approach to collaboration needed to support transformation.

This approach is valuable in most change situations including:

  • Introduction of new technology
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • New strategy
  • New strategy communication
  • Brand evolution or launch/relaunch
  • Design of new organisational processes
  • Defining cultures, behaviours and values

Visuals and support provided by David Gifford.

Storytelling is often seen as a communication tool to be used by leaders to influence an audience. But this misses one of the most powerful dimensions of stories – they are things that people, as social animals, have always shared and used to communicate deeper meaning. The sharing of stories has a powerful ability to […]