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Is it time we stopped telling stories in our internal communication?

The idea of narrative-based internal messaging is not new but the story of Kennedy visiting a space centre before the moon landing probably had something to do with it.

According to the tale, JFK asked a man pushing a broom in a NASA warehouse what he was doing and he said he was “putting a man on the moon”.

True or not, it speaks to the power of narratives to embody missions.

But life is rarely so simple in the public services. Yes, we’re all making lives better, making a difference and transforming public value.

It’s not quite NASA but, well, you have to start somewhere.

It’s not, the stories that bother me it’s the fact that this approach doesn’t really capture why people go to work.

For this, look to the psychological contract – the usually unwritten thing that says, I give you the best years of my life and energy in return for self-fulfilment and the chance to pay the mortgage/rent/university fees.

Maybe it’s time to shift gear and to acknowledge that in these “uncertain times” (when has it not been?), we need to create a stronger link between effort and reward.

Working in today’s public services means living with the ever-present possibility of career demise – if it’s not AI, it’s restructures, reviews or shifting political priorities.

NASA simply won’t cut it.

No matter what the story, the leadership narrative, the inspirational visions and the like, staff and managers are having to go out on a limb hoping that somehow they’ll be able to survive. Many don’t. Talented people leave every week and not always by choice.

In the light of such volatility, maybe the emphasis should shift to more of a transaction-based relationship – and not between corporate comms/CX and staff/managers but between managers and their staff.

In other words, by being clear about what staff and managers can and should get from work, and by being more honest about the chances of survival/opportunities for advancement/presence of emerging threats (as above), we need not worry about what tales should be told and what messages may be broadcast.

In opening such conversations, we will, no doubt, discover that those we manage (we in the widest sense) actually want to do something different with their lives. They may want job security whilst their children are at university and then a helpful leaving package to enable them to pursue other interests. Or they may want to advance in ways that suit their skills and talents.

The kind of attention that can be delivered when discussing “what’s in it for me” will easily exceed that available to even the most inspiring CX. Put simply, unpacking the psychological contract could enable an upward shift in commitment, productivity and delivery.

So when the CX next wanders through your office and asks one of the staff what they’re doing today, they may reply: “I’m putting my daughter through university” or “I’m going to be a potter next year.”

There’s little more powerful than personal stories.


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