The Chief Narrative Officer

Last week’s post discussed two anthems traditionally performed at the Last Night of the Proms, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem. There is a third, “Rule, Britannia!” which celebrates the Royal Navy. And the idea of celebrating the Royal Navy takes me by the following logic to today’s blog, the last in the series dealing with the exam in my graduate narratives course.

The Royal Navy is an institution with a long and proud history. The narratologist would ask if its history is anywhere to be found on its rubric in cyberspace, It turns out that the Royal Navy’s banner headlines are “modern and relevant” and “capable and resilient” and it prominently displays a new blog. There is, however, a link to its history on a banner at the top of the site, and the history is organized by periods, ships, leaders, and battles.

Looking a bit farther afield, both the Number 10 Downing St. (www.number10, and White House ( websites have links to a history of the place and its occupants.

In one of the exam questions, I asked students to provide a rationale and organizational role for a Chief Narrative Officer, using as an example any organization of their choosing. One of the roles of the CNO would be stewardship of the organization’s official history, as described above.

A broader position description would be to model, encourage, and champion the effective use of narrative throughout the organization. Some of the ways narrative could be used would include narratives about the organization’s clients or customers and how they benefit from the organization’s products or services, narratives about the organization’s employees and how they do valuable and meaningful work, and narratives about the organization itself, including its history and achievements.

The CNO should encourage the use of narratives on the website, in speeches, annual reports, and advertising. She should also advise people about how to develop convincing and persuasive narratives.

The most important thing to realize about the role of CNO is that it is a classic staff role, intended to support both the organization’s executive leaders and its line managers. The key questions about staff roles are where they fit in organization’s structure and whom they report to. The CNO’s natural allies would be in corporate communications, high-level (as opposed to brand) marketing, and strategic planning.

One thing few of the MBA students who took the exam mentioned was that people in staff roles, particularly if the role is new, need a high level patron. So a particularly important question is whom the CNO would report to, and the answer would be someone at the senior level with clout over the long run.

Recruiting a CNO might be a challenge. There aren’t any obvious producers of CNO’s as there are obvious producers of accountants or marketers. So I would suggest advertising the position and recruiting widely and seeing who applies. This would also imply recruiting beyond business schools and thus looking to cultural institutions, places as outside-the-box as graduate programs in literature or cultural studies. Who knows, perhaps in the future one of the graduates on the course will actually describe her position as CNO.

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