One of the key ingredients to organizational culture is its stories. At this year’s WorkHuman conference hosted by Globoforce, one of the sessions focused on effective storytelling. The speaker mentioned four principles from Steve Denning that are essential to effective storytelling:
- Be true.
- Be positive.
- Be succinct.
- Show growth.
As I was thinking of these principles, it reminded me of the opportunities we have to engage employees with our storytelling. It could be said that the principles of engagement are based upon truth, positivity, effectiveness, efficiency, and a desire to move forward. So the two are very much aligned. There are five types of storytelling you can use to connect candidates and employees with your organization:
- Stories about the history of the company. Years ago, I worked for an airline and one of the first stories employees heard was about the founder. He was the guy “who sold you the ticket, put your bags on the plane and then flew the plane.” We told the story during recruiting fairs, in orientation, etc. This storytelling not only gave you a history lesson but it told you something about the company’s founding principles.
- Stories explaining how decisions are made. At some point, the same airline was looking to save some serious expenses. So instead of just cutting the budget, they went to employees and explained the situation. They created a suggestion contest that financially rewarded employees for developing ideas that either increased revenue or reduced expenses. The result positively impacted the organization in the millions.
- Stories about employees delivering exceptional service. Mr. Bartender and I were recently in Tampa. When we checked-in, there was a sign at the front desk talking about mosquitos in the area and recommended to take precautions. In fact, the hotel said they would provide bug spray to guests upon request. Since we didn’t have bug spray with us, I asked about it. The front desk clerk looked around and couldn’t find any bug spray behind the front desk. Instead of telling us he couldn’t find any or the hotel was out of it, he walked over to the gift shop, grabbed a package of bug spray, told the cashier to charge it to the hotel and handed it to me. I will tell that story for years. I hope the hotel does too.
- Stories about how employees interact with each other. Most of the organizations I’ve worked for have used some form of collaborative hiring, where teams were formed to strategize and recruit. One of the things I’ve learned is that candidates immediately sense if the recruiting team is truly a team. They can tell by the way the team members interact and by the stories they share about the organization.
- Stories about what the world will be like in the future. I grew up in Orlando, Florida during the time that Walt Disney World was being built. There used to be a television show called “The Wonderful World of Disney” where Walt Disney himself would do the storytelling, sharing with viewers a sneak peek into the construction of Walt Disney World. I remember watching him explain EPCOT for the first time. Organizations have a powerful way to share their stories today directly with consumers using mobile, social and video.
Our organizational stories tell candidates, employees and customers who we are. They allow people to see what the company is really all about. They create a sense of company “community.” And they create engagement.
Oh and P.S. A great friend to HR Bartender, Jonathan Segal from the firm Duane Morris, and I are partnering with SHRM for a NextChat on corporate communities. Mark your calendar for November 4 at 3p Eastern. Never been on a Twitter chat? No worries. You can learn more here. It’s a lot of fun.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby4
Dr. Susan Brill de Ramirez says
Your blog about the role of storytelling in organizations is really helpful in reminding us about the extent to which language can create cohesiveness, insight, understanding, and productive connections. Indeed, stories have provided this role in all cultures and times. Two great examples from one of our Native writers is Leslie Marmon Silko’s books Ceremony and Storyteller which I think should be taught to every high school student (for many diverse reasons.) Thank you for your work in the area of SHRM (of value in any organization).
Excellent post. Point #3 is also a great example of employees empowered to make decisions in-the-moment that are right for the customer. They didn’t have to call a manager to get approval. It also showed that they CARE about satisfying the customer, which, to me, is engagement in its most basic form. And I’m guessing that particular story was memorable because you felt that someone truly cared.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thank you for the wonderful comments and sharing! I totally agree about customer stories. One of my faves is this one – http://www.hrbartender.com/2009/strategy-planning/the-red-purse-story/
I’m a true believer in story telling, especially in trying to get someone to understand something or to get their attention. But the way you used this paradigm in a HR perspective is utterly remarkable..