Why is storytelling essential to management?

Although storytelling has been a traditional form of passing on knowledge and wisdom for thousands of years, it is only recently that it has been utilised by managers and executives. Corporate giants such as Nike, Microsoft and Saatchi & Saatchi are using storytelling as a leadership tool. 

So how can storytelling help IT project managers and leaders? 

The rise of storytelling

Although there are a range of important aspects when managing a project, the ability to communicate your story or that of your company's is also an essential skill. Unfortunately, business organisations tend to prefer other forms of knowledge, ones that can be categorised, ​labelled, organised and calculated.

Yet, in recent years, there has been a push to incorporate the art of storytelling into the job descriptions of executives and CEOs

Yet, in recent years, there has been a push to incorporate the art of storytelling into the job descriptions of executives and CEOs. The renewed interest in the value of narrative and anecdotal information is an interesting phenomenon. Could it be that organisations are moving away from a purely quantitative state by employing qualitative methods?    

Once storytelling was an added bonus, today it is has become a requirement. 

But it is not just executives who can use narratives to get a message across. Storytelling is a handy skill graduates can utilise during a interview. For instance, say you have just graduated from a Cobit 5 course, using a story to introduce yourself may just be the platform that separates you from the other candidates.

Storytelling: the art of persuasion 

Lets look at a case study. Peter Guber, CEO and chairman of Mandalay Entertainment, wrote in a 2010 HBR article that storytelling lies at the heart of our ability to motivate, sell, lead and inspire. 

He wrote about his time working on a programme called Oceanquest. The show revolved around a team of divers and scientists who explored some of the worlds best underwater adventure spots. One of the episodes was set in the Havana harbour, where the sea floor is littered with a treasure trove of sunken galleons and pirate ships.

Yet, both the US and Cuban governments were against having a group of Americans filming in Cuba. After receiving the all clear from the US state department, with the help of Henry Kissinger no less, they set sail for Cuba, gambling they could win approval.

As it turned out Castro was a environmental and scuba enthusiast, and when he arranged a 10 minute visit to the set, Mr Gruber articulated the story of the harbour. He told a story that weaved together 16th century history with his desire to bring to life Cuba's past.  

Storytelling is essential to all forms of project managementStorytelling is essential to all forms of project management

"The seas belong to all humankind and so does history. You are the steward of Havana's history, and it is up to you to share it with the world," he reminded Castro.

After delivering his story, Mr Gruber was granted unlimited access to the harbour and a personal 4 hour visit from el Presidente himself. 

Storytelling and IT management

Although the example came from the movie industry, where stories are already prized, storytelling can still make a difference in whatever IT project you are managing.  

Central to project management is the ability to inspire your employees. Getting across your message and making sure your employees understand what it is you want them to do is essential. 

Many top executives, such as Microsoft's Irada Sadykhova, use stories to open a meeting or during an interview. They are a great way to build relationships with people: they let them know who you are and why your story matters. 

A good narrator always believes in their story. As such, truth is an essential ingredient in any good narrative. 

This can come in many forms, an insightful piece of information about yourself or about your company. Whatever it is, believing in yourself and your tale is essential. 

Storytelling is a key skill every project manager should have. The next time you have to persuade employees to believe in your decision, be it 15,000 or 5 people, telling a good story may make the difference for your project.