Organizational narrative: villains, victims, and heroes

Organizational narrative villains victims heroes

One thing I learned while publishing an alternative weekly newspaper: compelling stories have villains, victims, and heroes. The same thing goes for organizational narrative.

Recall in my first post about organizational storytelling: the founder of a music education non-profit told the story of the moment that led her to start her organization. In the story there were seemingly villainous gang members and a potential victim, a small child playing a violin in a public market. The hero of that particular story? Music itself.

It may sound corny, or melodramatic, or simplistic, but it’s true. We cheer for heroes to beat the villains and restore the victims to safety. A multi-billion dollar franchise was founded on the story of hero Luke Skywalker overcoming the villain Darth Vader to restore Princess Leia to her home world.

Who Can Be a Villain, Victim or Hero?

With the proper casting, you can use these three types of characters to tell your organization’s story.

  • Villains can be literal bad guys, if you’re working in public safety or national defense. Villains can also be harmful forces in the world that you’re trying to overcome: disease, hunger, poverty, discrimination, inequality, ignorance.
  • Victims are those harmed by the villains. Victims can be people:¬†victims of crime, victims of domestic violence, victims of natural disaster. They can also be other entities like forests, streams, neighborhoods. (The term ‘victim’ does carry some negative connotations associated with passivity or helplessness. It’s best not to use the actual term in your storytelling unless it is already an established usage or you explicitly want to use the terminology.)
  • Heroes are those who help victims overcome villains either through direction action or through inspiration and leadership. They can be truly remarkable people, or average people who do remarkable things. Heroes can also be things like ideas,¬† medicines, policies, or behaviors.

In organizational storytelling, the hero in part should be you. Yes, you! You get to cast yourself, your organization, or cause as the hero of your story. Sure, you can share the limelight with your research or services or partners or clients, but your organizational narrative is no place to be overly modest. You are trying to do heroic things for the people you serve, aren’t you?

Four Questions for Your Organizational Narrative

In building your organizational story, ask yourself:

  • What are the harmful forces that I’m trying to overcome?
  • What impact does those harmful forces have on the victims in my story?
  • How do I overcome the villains?
  • What does victory over the villains look like for the victims in my story?

Do you need help in developing and applying your organizational narrative? Check out my fixed-rate services.