Alison Esse is a Co-founder and Director of culture change consultancy The Storytellers and has joined WeAreTheCity as an Inspirational Woman.
The Storytellers was set up around Alison’s kitchen table thirteen years ago and all four founders still run the business. At the time, ‘storytelling’ was a new and unproven concept in business. From early on, The Storytellers’ name, methodology and ethos attracted attention from big corporates who needed help to accelerate the pace of change within their own organisations.
Today, storytelling has become an established tool in many forward-thinking businesses. As a result of their unique offering and proven impact, The Storytellers have led the way with their creative approach, working with many of the world’s biggest brands, with Sodexo, Coca-Cola, Hilton Hotels, Wynn Resorts, Barclays and Unilever amongst their client list of more than 160.
What inspired you to start a business?
When starting out, we were four people with very different backgrounds, but a common interest: finding a more effective way of actively engaging people in strategy, vision, values and change. In our previous roles, we’d each encountered clients struggling to get their messages across in human and impactful ways that sparked an emotional connection. At this time, no one was talking about storytelling as a concept, and we were inspired by the possibilities of the idea alone. We saw storytelling as a crucial tool in creating change across organisations, and thirteen years and over 160 clients later, we know we made the right choice in trusting this inspiration.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
For me, one of the greatest challenges has been instilling in new team members the same passion and deep understanding of how to apply our unique methodology, remaining in our niche, staying true to the approach and innovating around it yet not diluting it with a raft of different models and methodologies. As a business leader, it’s absolutely vital that your employees ‘get it’ – that is, buy into your purpose and approach, and carry your passion as if it was their own. At the same time, as a business grows, you have to learn to let go and accept that new ideas from other people could in fact be better than your own. Handing over the reins can be difficult, but looking for those people who share your passion does help you to slightly loosen your grip!
In terms of the biggest reward, I’ve loved developing a team with my colleagues over the years who are as excited about our baby as much as we, the founders, are. Seeing our team grow in themselves, and develop through working with our clients is hugely uplifting.
Our idea growing into a respected concept and making a difference to the lives of thousands of employees and clients has been truly phenomenal for me.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?
You’ll always have moments of self-doubt and instances of failure, but it’s so important to never let go of what you believe in, if you want to weather the storm. If – and when – you do fail, never take it too personally. Instead, see it as an opportunity to find new ways of approaching your challenges, rather than allowing them to stop you in your tracks.
You won’t be able to grow without a clear vision of what your success looks like. Define your purpose, and use this guiding principle to shape your future goals. Set a clear and aligned understanding of where you’re going and why you’re going there, with a cohesive series of goals so that everyone can get involved, knowing that their every action and decision is helping move you in the right direction.
Celebrate your success, and the successes of everyone. But, don’t rest on your laurels when you are doing well – keep doing your due diligence, and never assume that what worked for you before will have the same result in the future. Always assume change is around the corner, and prepare for any eventuality.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
My former boss at the PR company where I started my career, and friend to this day, acted as a mentor to me in my twenties – although I’m unsure if she knows this as it was in an informal capacity! When seeking out a mentor, the best role models and teachers are those you already have strong personal chemistry with, so look to your existing network if you’re looking for inspiration.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
● Always have a clear plan, and an inspiring yet realistic vision.
● Stay in touch with the changing needs of your customers.
● Keep innovating, and stay ahead of the game.
● Never assume what made you successful yesterday will work again tomorrow.
● If you’re doing well, people will copy you. Protect yourself if you can, or keep innovating.
What does the future hold for you?
I see my future, and the future of The Storytellers, as incredibly exciting over the coming years. Storytelling has become an increasingly important tool in the workplace, and it has finally started to receive the recognition that it deserves in business. Our challenge will be to keep innovating, and keep sharing our message of cultural change. We see ourselves as on the very tip of the iceberg. Our huge depth of experience from working with over 160 major global organisations provides a great opportunity to continue building our client base and to continue working with some fascinating senior minds to help solve their culture change challenges. Our purpose is to move more people to do great things – so we will continue to champion our approach to help companies achieve great success through their people.
And personally? Personally I look forward to being able to take my foot off the pedal slightly, and allow myself to fully enjoy the greater things in life. Whilst building The Storytellers, I must admit my work life balance has tipped firmly in favour of work, so I’m looking to readdress this slightly and allow our brilliant team to continue carrying us onwards and upwards.