“For months, I had been preaching the importance of finance partnering with the business. Our value, in my opinion, was simply not being recognized, because clients – the business – didn’t know who we were and didn’t recognize our contributions.
Then, one day, I walked into the office, and no one was there. My footsteps were basically echoing off the walls. I thought, ‘Did I forget about a holiday?’ ‘Is there some offsite meeting that no one told me about?’
Curious, I took the stairs to the next floor—and what I saw took me by surprise. My finance staff members were sitting in their internal clients’ offices, working directly with them. I hurried to another floor and saw the exact same thing.
That’s when it hit me: I’d gotten my message across. And it dawned on me that success is a funny thing. Sometimes you can succeed at something and not even recognize what you’ve achieved.”
As CFO, you have plenty of reasons to tell stories. Externally, you have to convey how your company is performing—and how it will likely perform in the future. Internally, like the CFO in the opening example, you have to relay the strengths of your team and convince business to partner with finance.
And sometimes you need to tell stories that effectively change the culture of an organization, particularly when some aspect is not working.
What stories can do when they are told well is connect the data and the wisdom. They can also convey what the storyteller values, whether that is upscaling your finance team to fit your growth vision or having finance partner with the business
Many times those stories have specific purposes, such as to inspire, to motivate, or to make the case for change. Other times, they can serve to enhance your personal brand. Whatever the purpose, knowing how to tell a story and having a few “pocket stories” can mean the difference between making a memorable point and just adding to the noise.
For some CFOs, of course, telling stories may not come as naturally as relaying data. Nevertheless, it comes with the territory, given that finance chiefs are often the messengers of good and bad news, as well as communicators of their own visions.
To offer some structure on how to tell stories, we introduced a simple model to help CFOs create and execute a disciplined communications program in “Creating an effective communication strategy.” In this article, we’ll outline the essential aspects of a story and make the case for why it is important in finance.
The case for storytelling
The need for storytelling couldn’t be clearer. In this information-overloaded society, you can get more data, more analysis, more opinion than you ever wanted. But as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Rock, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
What stories can do when they are told well is connect the data and the wisdom. They can take ideas, sometimes very intellectual ideas, and give an audience a visceral experience. They can also convey what the storyteller values, whether that is upscaling your finance team to fit your growth vision or having finance partner with the business.
Moreover, stories help make lasting connections with people, since audiences are typically more open to listening to—and remembering—stories than pure facts.
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