We live in an increasingly diverse and secular society yet the Christmas story remains a powerful force presented in Nativity plays, cards, music and above-average church attendances. It is a reminder of the power of story telling.
Policy papers and research papers do not often resonate with frontline staff or even some senior audiences. As a coach and presenter of workshops I am often struck by the power of stories to bring a message to life, engaging and inspiring listeners. Stories are vital in the workplace, too. Chief executives and managers need to be able to tell stories to explain and enthuse. They need to explain the external environment in a simple and understandable way. What is the direction of national policy? How does it affect the organisation, the team and the individuals? What is the connection between government policy announcements and the work done in the wards and community teams?
What is the organisation trying to do at local level and what is its part in making sure objectives are achieved? Besides the usual language and format a way needs to be found that tells the story of what things will be like for patients, carers and staff if the objectives are achieved.
Sometimes this should be relatively straightforward. The excellent national service frameworks and leadership from the National Institute of Innovation and Improvement on service redesign, with local flavour, should enable us to tell the story of a patient and family's experience of treatment and care. The story should enable staff providing the treatment and care to understand what it could, and will, be like if they get it right.
Information presented in this way has every chance of engaging people.
It will be more difficult in other areas. Perhaps there should be national awards for the most compelling stories that explain foundation trust status, and even more difficult still, commissioning, payment by results, choice and the national IT programme.
It would not be a bad idea to have a story that explained how the NHS, given a 50 per cent increase in resources in real terms, managed to end up broke with 43 per cent of the money going on pay awards and then generated a surplus.
Chief executives and managers need many skills and attributes. Energy, intelligence, resilience, organisational skills, knowledge and understanding of the work of the NHS (treatment and care), awareness of national policy, flexibility, communication and emotional intelligence. We need to add the art of story telling to this already demanding list.
We have all seen good and bad service provision and management. We should be willing to tell these stories. Stories can warn, shock, energise and inspire and are a spur to action. The test for all means of communication is whether they make it more likely that the right things will be done. Stories pass this test with flying colours.