It is easy for senior management to get so caught up in the minutiae of managing their businesses that they forget the importance of their company having a strong narrative.
It is true that we are a capital business and we do have to look after the money.
If we do that the money will look after us, but we have to remember that it is the people in the business that do the heavy lifting.
Numbers are just a (surprisingly inexact and subjective) way of keeping a record of success or failure. Numbers are backward-looking and don’t do anything by themselves. Long-term success in insurance is really about finding ways of attracting, motivating, stretching and then retaining the best quality talent in your business.
People respond to stories. Stories that explain why things are happening, what is going to happen in the future and where each individual sits within the overall plan are essential in business. Indeed, stories are so important in human nature that a good narrative can be used to help us justify even the most unjustifiable of things.
The best business leaders know this instinctively. They are usually natural storytellers.
They also know that if they do not fill the void with coherent messages, people will fill the vacuum with their own, often less optimistic, narratives.
If employees don’t feel they are part of something that makes sense they will look and listen to other businesses that tell a story they find more attractive.
For here’s the other detail that management often loses sight of.
Your story travels outside your organisation.
And once it is outside your business you lose the ability to influence it. The tale moves through your suppliers and your customers, and is recited to your competitors.
These competitors may be home to just the sort of staff you wish to attract to your organisation. If they like the story they are hearing they will seek you out and you will find it easy to lure them away from their current employer. If they don’t, they will stay where they are or look elsewhere.
Because your story gets passed from mouth to mouth it should be simple and easy to remember and repeat. If it isn’t, by the time it is third-hand it can become garbled and nonsensical like in a game of Chinese whispers.
The other cardinal rule is that it must be consistent. You can’t keep chopping and changing the story. It must be coherent and not contradict itself.
The best stories are always evergreen and relevant. They are always ready to be picked up, rediscovered and reinterpreted by the next generation. They never go out of style.
That’s not to say that stories can’t iterate or develop. Just occasionally, when a narrative has lost itself while rambling down a blind alley, it can be cut out, re-cast and reinvented.
The narrative can be re-set. Particularly if it is accompanied by new ownership and a new leadership team.
As this hardening market grinds slowly forward, the best storytellers will do well to remember that now is an excellent time to refresh the narrative of their organisation if the old story has got lost or gone stale.