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Why Your Project Needs A Chief Narrator


Andy Bird is the founder and CEO of business transformation company Inoapps and is based in Houston.

As an experienced systems integrator, we’ve seen many business transformation journeys. And no matter the customer or sector, you can always tell apart the ones that have a chief narrator guiding success.

The reason? When you have a chief narrator framing the project story:

• Everyone understands the narrative.

• If you understand the narrative, you understand the journey.

• If you understand the journey, you can evolve your mindset to adopt the change.

• You can, in turn, help your peers on their journey toward new ways of working.

Any professional who has experienced a typical transformation journey will relate to the uncertainty that arises when an organization undertakes a strategic transformation initiative.

Many of us experience cognitive dissonance—the struggle to reconcile our understanding of the status quo with the new normal when our worldview is challenged. Often individuals undergoing a transformation journey struggle with this.

To help reconcile the new with the old, a convincing narrative is needed to bridge the gap and make the change journey easier. This narrative or “story” provides a golden thread to sew together a picture of the world after the transformation—a collective understanding and new identity with which to align.

Often, the significance of the transformation story is lost in the belief that all that’s needed is to publish information for everyone to read, and they’ll work it out for themselves. Surely facts and figures make more sense than a story?

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The European IPS Journal recently published research demonstrating that for critical health information to be successfully consumed by the public, statistics need to be hooked to compelling stories to make them come alive for the audience.

This equally applies to the corporate world. The reality is that only a portion of people makes sense of the world through just statistics. The rest of us have evolved to make sense of the world through stories—a narrative that, when shared across your business, becomes a collective social story. This becomes the foundation of your transformation journey and reduces the pockets of cognitive dissonance.

We’ve all experienced the white noise of uncertainty. It’s the corridor conversations and misassumptions that happen when people interpret the facts and figures in their own ways, without the golden thread narrative to guide them.

The Chief Narrator Profile

Chief narrators exist in all walks of life. They are the people who clearly see the vision and can share it with others in ways that resonate with the individual or group. The people who can do this inspire and motivate others to be part of the journey. They are the Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs of the world. They can open minds to new ideas and ways of working.

Without them, every transformation journey takes a little bit longer, is a little bit flatter and runs the risk of reverting to the past once the transformation is over and delivered.

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Identifying the chief narrator for your transformation program isn’t easy. The person who owns the transformation and champions the vision often first falls to the SRO (senior responsible owner/program sponsor). This may not, however, be the most suitable candidate.

Chief narrators define the program narrative as a compelling story for all stakeholder viewpoints. They monitor and measure the impact the narrative has on entrenching the transformation journey and apply course corrections when the wind blows in unexpected directions.

Chief narrators have charisma and energy. They are the Pied Piper of the transformation, calling people to follow them into the new operating model with purpose and passion.

A perfect chief narrator has:

• Vision and foresight.

• Great communication/storytelling skills.

• Charisma.

• Trusted influence.

• High emotional quotient.

If you don’t have one person who ticks these boxes, you can craft a team to perform the role, with each member playing to their strengths. The key to success is that they operate with a shared vision and pull together to define, support and manage the transformation narrative.

Remember, the role is not just to define the story but to weave the golden thread throughout the transformation, which means measuring effectiveness and adjusting as needed.

How To Structure A Transformation Story

1. Have a clear vision. Understand how it aligns with your outcomes and the behaviors you want to shape across the organization. Define the vision, and make sure it speaks to the hearts of the audience.

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2. Adapt your story to your audience and their cultural mindset. You may be one company or organization, but you will have many pockets of microculture or regional culture that need to be engaged. One message will not fit all mindsets.

3. Identify your protagonist. Who or what is the hero of the story? A good story has a character or team for the audience to root for. The protagonist helps the audience anchor an emotional attachment to the transformation. The company itself can be the protagonist battling against a hostile marketplace and coming up against common enemies in the form of competitors.

4. Take the audience on a journey. Every good story has a quest or challenge the protagonist must overcome. The journey will have many highs and lows as the protagonist experiences successes and the occasional setback. The role of the chief narrator is to get everyone to follow the journey with anticipation, learning a little as you navigate each chapter or phase of the program.

5. Ensure the narrative always has a takeaway. This is a lesson the audience can learn and take away with them. Something that adjusts their worldview a little each time, moving them along the path of the transformation vision. So that when the time is right, they are ready for the final outcome—the transformed organization, new operating model, updated system or mindset.


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