Spear, Sara and Roper, Stuart (2016) Storytelling in organisations: supporting or subverting corporate strategy? Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 21 (4). pp. 516-532. ISSN 1356-3289

Storytelling is claimed to be an effective way of communicating corporate strategy within organisations. However, previous studies have tended to focus holistically on storytelling in organisations rather than investigating how different groups may use and be influenced by stories. The purpose of this paper is to address these gaps in the literature by investigating how storytelling in internal communication can either support or subvert corporate strategy.

A qualitative study was conducted into storytelling in two large companies in the UK energy industry. Data were collected through 70 semi-structured interviews, documentary research, and observation research. Impression management theory was used to analyse how stories supported or subverted corporate strategy.

Storytelling by employees in the corporate and customer service areas of the organisations showed the greatest support for corporate strategy. There was more subversive storytelling in the operational areas, particularly by lower level employees. Stories subverted corporate strategy by recounting incidents and encouraging behaviour that contradicted the organisation’s vision/goals and values.

The study shows the important contribution of employees to the collective sensemaking process in organisations, by narrating supportive or subversive stories. Engaging employees in storytelling can enhance support for corporate strategy, however, managers should also see subversive stories as an opportunity to identify and address problems in the organisation

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