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Career stories: catalysts for cultural change


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Across industry sectors, development professionals face common cultural challenges. How can we engage individuals in managing their careers? How can leaders be encouraged to find time for career conversations? And how can we help colleagues recognise and explore the full range of career opportunities on offer?

We believe that career stories should be at the centre of any change strategy – stories are one of the key ways that cultures are created and sustained. Inspiring career stories have a vital role to play in transforming the way people think about career development and the opportunities open to them.

At this roundtable we were joined by Lorna Macdonald, Head of Career Development and Elaine Paterson, former Executive Producer and now Talent Consultant at the BBC. They shared the story of their work at the Corporation, focusing on how the BBC has used storytelling to make an emotional connection with employees, challenge manager assumptions, and inspire individual action, in support of their career strategy.

‘The BBC career experience; from gated community to a career playground’


Rosemary McLean introduced the session, commenting on the central role of personal narrative in career development. Indeed, one objective of our successful Be Bold career development programme is to help people clarify and articulate their career story.

David North suggested that career stories are one of the most powerful ways of inspiring and influencing the behaviour of employees, line leaders and senior managers. Stories work because they:

  • Connect with our emotions; evoking empathy, for example
  • Enable us to teach subtly and indirectly
  • Come across as genuine and not company ‘spin’
  • Draw people together
  • Motivate people to take action

Stories can be used to communicate many aspects of a career strategy: from the different career pathways people follow, through the value of a great career conversation, to taking risks and breaking down organisational barriers.

Participants shared the messages they want to communicate with career stories, and the audiences they aim to reach:

  • Encourage emerging talent to seek breadth of experience
  • Influence everyone to understand that career development is about more than moving up
  • Educate technical staff about their career development options, particularly when the organisation is most at risk of losing them
  • Empower diverse talent to seek career support, for example through the mentor network
  • Promote the benefits of lateral moves and navigating your career
  • Help everyone to understand the strengths of the organisation culture, and how to work successfully within it
  • Highlight the importance of authenticity to high potentials; raising awareness that senior executives have doubts and vulnerabilities too

‘We tell stories to remind everyone that there is no ‘one right way’ to progress a career’


Lorna provided the business context for their work, explaining that the BBC is transforming itself to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive and disrupted media environment. Key to this is attracting and retaining talented people. A significant element of their strategy is promoting a career proposition which encourages people to make the most of all the BBC has to offer. A particular challenge is the profile of the employee population. The BBC has low turnover and long tenure, which can lead to many people feeling ‘stuck’.

‘Our stories aim to get people to fall in love with the BBC again’

Lorna and Elaine showed us a montage of film clips, which aim to achieve a number of career development purposes:

  • Re-connecting employees emotionally with the Corporation
  • Providing individuals with a clear line of sight between what they do and the BBC’s output – making ‘an ordinary day extraordinary’ for their viewers and listeners
  • Encouraging colleagues to be more expansive in their thinking about career opportunities; as internal mobility is the means by which the BBC will realise a ‘creative dividend’
  • Showing the full range of career options open to people by featuring stories from all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs

An approach that has proved particularly successful is to align an important career theme to a popular BBC show. For example, they’ve linked the availability of apprenticeships and sponsored placements to The Apprentice, taking career risks to Strictly Come Dancing, and inclusive careers to Stormzy’s performance at Glastonbury. Regarding curation and accessibility, their aim is to flood the BBC intranet with stories. They’ve adopted the living library concept and referenced Humans of New York as an inspiration.

With the promotion of diversity and inclusion as an underlying theme, whose stories get told is a key consideration. Representation matters and the BBC team have been guided by the belief that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. Employee feedback on this issue has been helpful; some comments focused on the number of films featuring young people, with fewer stories about mid and late career employees.

The group asked Elaine how she identifies the stories to tell, and how much production is involved in honing the stories. Individuals are invited to participate via networking groups or by direct email. The team then go to the storytellers and aim to capture an authentic voice. People often script their stories in advance, but the best material comes when the storyteller opens up about their experience rather than relying on their notes.

Lorna described how they measure the direct and indirect impact of stories on the career development objectives they support. Examples included:

  • Tracking how often planned experience (where individuals spend 20% of their time in a different part of the BBC) leads to a permanent job move
  • Monitoring career-related engagement survey results, for example whether employees say they understand the career options open to them.

People sometimes leave as the result of exposure to career development support. This can be a win for all parties; the individual has been helped to write the next phase of their career story, and their departure opens up opportunities for others in the BBC.

Lorna was asked what else needs to be in place to capitalise on the positive impact of career stories. She highlighted the opportunity for immediate action so that people don’t lose momentum. At the end of each career story, have a call to action so that if you’ve been inspired by what you’ve heard you can act on it while you’re in the moment e.g. a film about a great mentoring relationship will end with details to join the mentoring network. She also mentioned the need to align messages – such as the value of transferable skills with hiring managers’ willingness to appoint people without depth of experience in their field.

Participants shared some of the ways they are using stories:

  • Recruitment: showing a film of inspiring stories about how employees in different roles contribute to the success of the business
  • D&I: stories that describe what it means to work in an inclusive organisation
  • Experience-based development: peer experience sharing via podcasts and Yammer
  • Networking groups: people sharing career stories at employee meetings
  • Careers Week: sharing stories in live sessions illustrating themes such as mentoring, developing a growth mindset, and the benefits of lateral moves


‘We tell stories about our products and customers, why not about our employee’s career stories?’

Participants shared their takeaways:

  • Stories are a great way to connect people with our company mission, helping them feel a renewed sense of purpose
  • Stories have the potential to bust career myths
  • Bring the same professionalism to the production of internal stories as we do for external ones
  • Recognise the emotional impact of great stories, sharing these with employee groups who are difficult to connect with
  • Re-energise people about the organisation and the opportunities it offers
  • Use stories to inspire time-pressed managers to see the importance and benefit of their role as career supporters

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