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Narrative or story?

There is, I believe, a difference between a story and a narrative. A narrative brings together a series of stories in a timeline to create context and meaning. It is an account of connected events and enables you to tell a bigger, more strategic story.

The narrative needs to explain the business background, your vision, your purpose and strategic objectives, in order to provide the wider context necessary to make individual stories more meaningful (see Figure 11.3).

Figure 11.3: Narrative vs story

In this way, the story relates to a single incident that is deep with meaning, especially when seen within the context of the overall narrative.

Vitaly Vasiliev is the CEO of Gazprom Marketing and Trading (GM&T), a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s largest gas producer, the Russian energy business OAO Gazprom. GM&T’s principal activity is the marketing and trading of energy products, including natural gas, electricity, LNG, LPG, oil and carbon emission allowances in the UK, continental Europe, the United States, Asia and other world energy markets. It also engages in the charter and sub-charter of vessels as part of the group’s shipping and logistics activities.

GM&T has achieved more than a decade of growth, from a small office in London with just a few people to a truly global presence today. The growth has been extremely rapid, and the challenges for Vitaly and his leadership team have been considerable.

One of the challenges has been that of recruiting people into the business and bringing them up to speed with the culture and business plan as fast as possible. To do this, Vitaly decided to write a book with the help of his staff, one that explained the history, culture and strategy of the business.

Entitled The Energy to Succeed, the book sets out to create a vivid snapshot of GM&T today. As Vitaly says, its purpose is ‘to help people understand where the company has been, where it is going and what it is going to take to hit our targets fair and square’. He explains:

‘We decided that we would get people from all over the company to tell their own stories about how we have developed, how they see the culture, and how they see our unique, multicultural, global business… We wanted everyone to participate and work together to create a valuable tool that would explain why we play such an important role in the world, how energy is a critical factor of success for all our clients, and why we aim to provide energy in ways that are more flexible and innovative than anybody else.’

At 109 pages, the book describes the company’s True North, its strategic priorities and the key needs of all of its customers, and provides a platform for staff to talk about the values of the organization, bringing them to life with stories and examples that show how the culture drives effectiveness. It literally is a corporate narrative, populated by a lot of different stories narrated by members of staff for members of staff.

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