Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Years ago, I heard a speaker talk about the four principles of telling great stories. They are: 1) be truthful, 2) stay positive, 3) be succinct, and 4) show growth. I try to remember them every time I’m telling a story.
Storytelling is a great way to share experiences, convey information, and demonstrate values. As I was thinking of storytelling and these principles, it reminded me that we can use stories to engage employees. The principles of engagement are based upon truth, positivity, effectiveness, efficiency, and a desire to move forward. So the two concepts are very much aligned.
The reason I wanted to mention storytelling and engagement today is because I recently got my hands on two books focused on stories. The first one is called “Unsung Heroes: The Untold Story of HR” by our friends Alex Alonso and Nancy Woolever at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and “HR Like a Boss: Your Guide to Amazingly Awesome HR” by John Bernatovicz. Now you might be saying, “Hey! I thought we were talking about employee engagement. These sound like HR books.” Yes, they’re HR books. And HR professionals are employees. Sometimes we forget that we need engagement too.
I thought both books do a great job of sharing stories to demonstrate the value of storytelling. So I wanted to outline the five types of stories you can use to create engagement (with examples).
Stories about the organization’s history. SHRM’s “Unsung Heroes” book is a celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the organization. One of the sections in the book is dedicated to insights from former SHRM leaders and board leaders. It was great to see their insights today against the backdrop of their history with the organization.
As human resources professionals, not only should we know about the history of our profession, but we should also know the history of the place we work. 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. The story not only gave you a history lesson but it told you something about the company’s founding principles and values.
Stories explaining how decisions are made. Speaking of founding principles and values, I enjoyed the chapter in Bernatovicz’s “HR Like a Boss” titled “What do bosses care about?”. Yes, it talks about data, numbers, and profits. But it also talks about emotional intelligence. They are not mutually exclusive.
For example, the same airline I mentioned above was looking to save some serious expenses. So instead of just cutting the budget, they went to employees and explained the situation. The organization 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 and employees were a part of the solution.
Stories about employees delivering exceptional service. One of the stories in the “Unsung Heroes” book is about an employee who gets into a car accident. The HR department talks to the employee’s family about their benefits because the employee is incapacitated. They go the extra mile to make sure that the employee is focused on their recovery, not fighting with insurance companies. And when that employee was ready to return to work, they created a job for them, which ultimately led to a position in human resources.
The ”employee” in this story … is me. I was so fortunate to work for a company that had a fantastic HR department that cared. A lot of organizations say they’re employee centric but don’t show it when times are tough. This company did and I won’t forget it.
Stories about how employees interact with each other. Relationship building is a key competency for human resources professionals. This storytelling is important because it helps us communicate information and sell our ideas. In “HR Like a Boss”, Bernatovicz spends some time talking about superficial relationship building and the need to do better. I really thought his take on being “more quality and less quantity” was spot on.
Candidates and employees immediately notice relationships – both the good and not so good. For instance, 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 people 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 future holds. 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 share with viewers a sneak peek into the construction of Walt Disney World. I remember watching him explain EPCOT for the first time. Organizations today have a powerful way to share their stories directly with consumers using mobile, social media, and video.
While none of us know exactly what the future looks like, we do have hopes, dreams, and expectations. There are several stories in “Unsung Heroes” from people who were following their passion and found it. There’s a chapter in “HR Like a Boss” about becoming a force of nature. The point is these types of stories tell candidates, employees, and even customers who we are. They allow people to see what the company is really all about. They create a sense of organizational “community.” And they create engagement.
P.S. You can pick up copies of “Unsung Heroes: The Untold Story of HR” by Alex Alonso and Nancy Woolever and “HR Like a Boss: Your Guide to Amazingly Awesome HR” by John Bernatovicz either on the SHRM Store website or via Amazon.54