The Narrative of Reward

By Ian Davidson B.Sc. MBA FCIPD MCIM, Head of Reward, Temenos

I was rereading a collection of essays by William Gibson (the inventor of the term “cyberspace”) called “Distrust that particular flavour”.  Gibson has a wonderful narrative style.  As an example he writes, “The end point of human culture may well be a single point of effectively endless duration, an infinite digital Now”.  Reading it made me reflect on the power of narrative and how it may be harnessed to benefit the communication of reward.

The power of storytelling in business is well known; but how can we undertake successful storytelling to develop a narrative for reward?  Telling a story gives meaning, cohesion and structure to complex subjects.  It allows our audience to engage in a powerful way and leads to a much greater understanding of our subject than a dry, dusty, factual exposition.  My children seem to pick up more history from the comic story telling of the BBC’s “Horrible histories” than from well-crafted history lessons at school.

In this time of social media and press scrutiny of reward we have a vast audience of interest.  It includes politicians, shareholders, staff, non-executive directors, compensation committees, regulators, tax authorities. the public, journalist and pundits.  All have different understandings, agendas and viewpoints.  By using a good story of what we are achieving and what we hope to do we can craft a broad canvas to interest and engage our audiences.

The recently published best-selling book “Thinking, fast and slow” by Kahneman strongly extolls the importance to human thinking of making things simple and memorable rather than presenting concepts that require a lot of mental effort and thought.  It argues that people bring to mind the simple and memorable far quicker and perhaps in a more positive way than something that requires to be thought about.  Providing an engaging and interesting tale of success will frame the way our audiences view our work.  With that achieved we can perhaps seek to reveal the complexity and ambiguity that is the actual context of so much reward work.

Engagement is key to understanding.  A well-crafted story creates the images and metaphors that define how people think about reward.  Many of us have read Gareth Morgan’s “Images of Organisation”.  This has a powerful narrative of how the way we use metaphors about our organisation defines how we visualise and think about them.  Do we think of our organisation in warlike terms, “the fight for success” or sporting metaphors, “going for gold” (very apt after the successful Olympics)?  These metaphors will largely define how we think about our organisation.  In the same way the story and metaphors we use in our reward narrative will define how our audiences think about and visualise our products.  Think for a moment about the different images that arise from the use of the word “reward” as opposed to “compensation”.  Reward has positive images, compensation perhaps less so.  Are we rewarding people for their contribution or compensating them for their time and effort? 

A good narrative also helps us as reward experts in carefully defining the “well-formed outcomes” that we hope to achieve as well as giving coherence to our thoughts and approaches.

My two final challenges to myself is to work out how I can craft a powerful story that is relevant to the multi-country, multi-cultural environments in which I operate and how I can find time amid all the operational pressures!  Any offers for a solution or some amazing stories on those complex issues?

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