Why you need to tell stories

The McLeod review identified four enablers to better employee engagement:

  1. Strategic leadership or narrative
  2. Engaging managers
  3. Employee voice
  4. Integrity

These are all key considerations when developing and delivering your strategy and are covered later. However, strategic leadership and integrity need particular focus in this chapter.

Strategic leadership

This is visible, empowering leadership that provides a strong strategic narrative about your organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.


Organisational integrity is where the vision and values on the wall are reflected in your day-to-day behaviours. What your leaders say must align with what they do. Any gaps are quickly spotted, leading to employee cynicism and disaffection.

Your strategy must:

  • Set out a compelling and authentic strategic narrative showing clearly what your organisation stands for
  • Clearly reference the civil service reform agenda

The strategic narrative is where the organisation sets out its vision for the future. Internal communicators need to identify opportunities where they can bring this to life and articulate the corporate strategy and vision. The narrative must:

  • Feel actionable and achievable
  • Paint a compelling but realistic picture of the future and the role of employees in that future
  • Build confidence in the organisation and its leadership

For the narrative to be clear it needs to be meaningful, timely and relevant. You need to avoid the tendency that some organisations have to put the onus on the employee to translate and make sense of their messages.

A strategic narrative is an ongoing story and can come in all shapes and sizes. This is an example of one used by the chief executive of a health organisation, in the form of a blog, to set out the journey so far and what the future looks like.

Communicators understand the need to segment external audiences and they need to be just as diligent when it comes to internal audiences. Information must be created with the end-user in mind and developing personas for your internal audiences can really help. See the Audience chapter

Having a strategic narrative is about telling an authentic story, grounded in the real world, that employees can understand. This interview with the Department of Transport’s Permanent Secretary, Philip Rutman, gives some valuable insight into why this is important, particularly in times of change.

Let your managers do the talking

Survey after survey shows managers are the most important and preferred channel for employees. So, the single-most important factor in delivering any internal communications strategy must be your managers.

Line managers and leaders are estimated to account for two-thirds of the impact on employees’ attitudes and behaviour. In comparison, the formal channels – where internal communicators traditionally spend most of their time – account for less than 10 percent of the impact, but take up the majority of the time and budget (Quirke:2008:106).

So, making sure your leaders and managers do the talking, preferably face-to-face, is key to your strategy.