Agile Businesses: Hannah Moyo Of The Storytellers On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Ground your teams with a strong purpose and inspire them in your vision. We use stories to help people connect with this. We also use stories as proof points to help people envision the future they want to create.
As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hannah Moyo.
As Head of Consulting at business transformation consultancy The Storytellers, Hannah is committed to truly understanding the needs of their global client base and working with the organization’s interdisciplinary team to tailor impactful transformation programmes centered around their unique, story-driven methodology. She has designed and delivered a number of large programmes with clients including National Instruments, British Airways, Santander UK, Bank of England and Experian.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
The fast-paced world of technology has always interested me. Whilst studying Business Management at the University of Surrey in the UK, I took a year out to work as a Financial Analyst at Hewlett Packard — this really got me hooked. During the placement, I quickly came to understand how important it was to make meaning from data and how to turn information into a compelling story for leaders to make critical business decisions.
After graduating, I moved to London to take up a graduate position at IT services company Capgemini. The experience I gained from working on various transformation and implementation projects — both in the public and private sectors — inspired me to focus more on the human side of technology-driven change.
I loved the experience of helping people to make the most out of the technology and systems we were introducing. Looking back, those four and a half years at Capgemini really did lay strong foundations for my future career in Consulting.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first entered the workplace, simply because I am a woman, I was convinced it was business critical that I wear heels every hour of every day at work. I was worried I would be seen as less important, less corporate and my role less valued if I didn’t.
I specifically remember finishing one client meeting barely able to walk — all thanks to the worst blister I have ever had, caused by a new pair of heels I felt compelled to wear! I find it funny now, because I can’t believe how at the time I just accepted the pain of commuting and walking to the canteen or washroom in heels.
Eventually, I realised that I was just as important to the business if I wore a pair of flats too! Today, whilst I still like to wear heels from time to time, I focus more on how I use my voice, words and actions to own a room.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
During my time at Capgemini, my mentor set me a goal to publish a social media post to my professional network at least weekly, and ideally daily, to create a habit. I hated doing it to begin with and didn’t see the point… that was until I began to see the results of my efforts.
People started liking my posts, and it really helped me to engage with our clients beyond the usual business channels of meetings, emails and face-to-face networking. It even helped us to land new business — just by posting and making a habit of it. It taught me that even making tiny changes to the way you do things can lead to incredible results.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
At The Storytellers, we move people to do great things. This purpose has guided us through double digit growth and has recently led to our best revenue results ever since we were established nearly 20 years ago. It underpins everything we do and helps us to talk about the powerful role storytelling can play in helping our clients thrive and deliver extraordinary performance.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
The Storytellers are business transformation specialists. Through a unique combination of consultative strategy and award-winning creativity — including creative campaigns, events and leadership coaching — we use the power of storytelling to activate extraordinary performance for our clients. For businesses navigating change, or looking to stay relevant and maintain competitive advantage, our programmes help to rapidly change mindsets and shift behaviours throughout an organization. To date we’ve worked with over 200 large, and often complex, global organizations.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Live and immersive events play an important role in our integrated storytelling programmes, and in the last two years, the rapid shift to virtual and hybrid event delivery has required us to pivot quickly to stay one step ahead of our client’s needs.
From the moment the pandemic hit, the questions our clients asked became all too familiar; How do we engage over 400 people on a call and still make it interactive? How do we get 20,000 people to understand and engage with our strategy when everyone is working from home?
Humans are social animals. Interacting as a group or a ‘tribe’ is a fundamental need we have for our sense of wellbeing, and to enable us to make sense of the world and what is going on around us. Events that bring people together — even if online — provide an opportunity to build a sense of community — a space for leaders to open themselves up to those around them and hear their colleagues’ voices.
At a time of social distancing and remote working, organizational connectivity was essential. We also needed to equip the senior leaders of our client organizations with the right tools and knowledge to keep their teams engaged and motivated throughout this unprecedented period of uncertainty.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Firstly, we brought together the experience within all our teams — from Consultants and Programme Managers to Strategic Writers, Creatives and Producers — to collaborate on how we create new story-driven approaches to event delivery. One of the new platforms we created was StoryLive, a live, virtual event solution that has enabled us to engage audiences of over 4,000 people through a combination of broadcast, CGI, webinar style content, data capture and interactive technology. It enabled us to provide alternative ways to evoke similar levels of unrivalled emotional connection and immersion that matched, and often exceeded, the in-person elements of our business storytelling programmes.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Although we have created and hosted virtual gatherings and experiences for our clients for many years, I think the real ‘Aha moment’ came when we realized that hybrid delivery was going to be our future and this gap in the market needed to be filled. Establishing a new blend of physical and virtual environments marked a new beginning for us in terms of how we inspire and continue to engage people in the new hybrid world in which we all live and work.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Extremely well. After launching StoryLive we continued to research and innovate in this space. In the last six months we have undertaken multiple events engaging leadership teams and colleagues in new territories and are seeing success in international expansion, especially within the US. Through all this, I am incredibly grateful to our team. We have an amazing group of people who work together to make the magic happen — there’s no way we would be where we are without them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Despite this being a period of incredible growth, perhaps the most interesting part is that we’ve not always focused too heavily on the numbers. Of course, you still need them to track progress. However, a crucial part of our journey has been to build a strong purpose-led organization together, where everyone is given more individual accountability, and through teamwork and clear direction — we are all pulling in the same direction. This has allowed us to explore these new markets, develop our product proposition and grow the team to take on even more high-profile clients. In turn this has led to commercial success.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Keep your people with you. You may not have all of the answers — but that’s ok. Bring your teams together, have conversations and talk openly about your concerns and challenges. Create a safe space for challenge and to fail and take risks. You can successfully navigate the challenge with your teams if you keep talking and focus the conversation on your purpose, values and vision to help guide you even in the most uncertain of times.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Sharing stories is a brilliant way to boost morale and engagement within teams. Small stories provide proof-points that create belief in a common purpose, foster creativity and evoke passion. Collaborative storytelling is a way to make sense of the world we live in and create communities who will support each other. During even the toughest of situations, when people share stories about what they’ve achieved or even how they’ve struggled, not only will this help your team to connect on a different level, it will provide the green shoots of hope that any uncertain situation can be overcome.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
In my experience, if you can embrace uncertainty — through conversation and collaboration — it will quickly lead to exploration and innovation.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Rather than mistakes, I get more frustrated when leaders make too many excuses for not facing up to disruptive technologies. For example, I’ve heard leaders dismiss exploring or using new technology because they say ‘everything is working just fine at the moment’ — great for now, but how will you remain relevant and stay competitive? Other excuses include, ‘we can’t innovate because we don’t know how’ and ‘we don’t have time’ or ‘we don’t have an R&D team’. As I’ve already said, every single person in an organization can innovate or adopt an entrepreneurial mindset — the mistake that leaders make is to not give their employees the space and empowerment to own it and do something about it.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Empower people to make decisions and help overcome a fear to take risks. For example, share examples of projects or situations that don’t always go as planned. We’ve seen the best results when leaders create safe environments where employees are able to sometimes risks — fail fast, learn fast and see results faster.
- Ground your teams with a strong purpose and inspire them in your vision. We use stories to help people connect with this. We also use stories as proof points to help people envision the future they want to create.
- Bring in industry trends and articles that help to create inspiration and spark ideas. For example, hold a hackathon or ‘industry inspiration’ session to discuss external thinking to vote on ideas from the team on new ways of working and doing things.
- Discuss the legacy you want to leave as a team. What do you want to be known for? What disruptive technologies are going to make this a reality and what are you not doing now that you need to change?
- Don’t lose focus and prioritize based on external data and internal agile thinking. Avoid taking on too many new ideas for disruptive tech at once, instead just focus on one or two big things to try as a team that will really make a difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mantra is: It’s impossible to be perfect, we’re all human. When you make mistakes, as long as you quickly learn from them, you can usually grow even faster. Furthermore, when you’re leading a team that then isn’t afraid to make mistakes or take calculated risks, it can help you uncover opportunities that would have otherwise remained hidden.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or follow The Storytellers for weekly insights on this and many more business transformation and future-proofing topics. You can also find out more about our work and sign up for regular updates from The Storytellers at thestorytellers.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
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