How the age-old tradition of telling tales could transform your internal comms strategy
“Once upon a time…” is an age-old adage that lives within many of our childhood memories.
We would sit in our chairs or lay in our beds captivated as we listened, word after word, to the stories and adventures of others without interruption. But why is the concept of a good story something that’s so immediately captivating, managing to capture the attention of listeners regardless of age?
Storytelling has existed as a major mode of communication for thousands of years and the necessity for it now has never been stronger. While we recognize the emotional merit to storytelling, many organizations do not realize that storytelling can also become a powerful and crucial internal communications weapon.
At many companies, internal communication suffers; usually due to a lack of engagement. If you find yourself questioning why your employees don’t pay attention, you may want to take a look at your content. Is it boring? Can your employees relate?
When competing for attention, storytelling is the answer – it has a way of moving past the facts and connecting on an emotional level. Incorporating stories into your messages and content can have numerous effects, such as the development of a shared sense of identity, or transmission of values and motivation.
Here are some reasons to take a storytelling approach to your internal communications.
Storytelling and your internal comms
The constant challenge in today’s internal communication is making sure that your employees are engaged – meaning they know, remember and share your company’s overall strategy and vision. Active employees are necessary to support and contribute to the overall goals of your organization.
However, difficulties arise when the plan of action does not inspire your employees to get on board. Direct written communications from an organization are often used to distribute information as it is the fastest and easiest way to communicate, but faster is not always better – in fact, stepping out of that mold may yield better results.
(Source: Ishmael’s Corner)
When creating your internal comms strategy, it is important to note that people will want to know who you are before they decide to listen to what you have to say. Because of this, storytelling has proven to be an essential communication strategy and a great method for anyone to use. Adapting a personable nature in the workplace will make it easier for your employees to connect with you and your goals, as well as garner a position of trust with your peers. Among all the facts and figures of business, what is often missing is the human element – stories create this effect, leaving individuals with something to remember and value.
Using tools like stories and visuals has proven to be successful, managing to engage employees both intellectually and emotionally. When used, these tools do more than tell: they show individuals situations in which they are able to relate to and convey in their daily working lives. Research shows that stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone, while visuals help 73% of employees understand their company’s strategy. If your internal comms strategy could use a boost, take the time to explore some storytelling practices for connecting employees on an emotional level, such as:
- Humanize your topics. Consider using real customer profiles to express your strategy; having real people express their ideas on the matter can encourage employees to join in the conversation.
- Incorporate graphics. An image can be worth a thousand words. Images can often communicate a story in a more reasonable and relatable way than written text.
- Narrate Video. A presentation can help to easily explain complex concepts, especially if explained in a way employees can relay and recount.
Storytelling and your leaders
When thinking of some of the world’s most powerful leaders, it is clear that they all had one thing in common: they inspired leadership. The same applies to the role of a leader or manager in an organization. People choose to follow leaders because of how they make them feel, and stories are proven to be a powerful way to make strong emotional connections with employees.
Many leaders may not be used to the concept of sharing personal experiences, choosing instead to focus on the literal and logical points. However, stories get results that other communications cannot and they ultimately create a platform where internal communication goals can be accomplished. Personalized storytelling platforms and employee stories are a low-cost strategy that can easily be utilized by leaders to drive business results and amplify internal communication.
For example, the Forbes article, “The CEO as Storyteller in Chief” explains how CEOs use storytelling to enhance their own company narrative. He describes how Howard Schultz, Starbucks Chairman, often told the story of his trips to Milan and his love for the brewed espresso he discovered and brought back with him.
Schultz shares this story with his employees to inspire, humanize his leadership, foster positive behavior and to show that their job is more than just selling coffee. Because of this, he creates a passion for a valuable coffee experience inside his employees, leaving them engaged and more motivated to the purpose of the organization. Sharing authentic storytelling is a powerful business tool for internal communications managers and by far a more effective and appealing tactic than communicating company values through traditional methods.
Storytelling and your employees
Storytelling does not solely need to come from your leaders; in many organizations, employee generated stories can be a useful tool to incorporate into your internal communications strategy.
Stories engage anyone who listens, so it is equally as imperative to make sure your employees get the chance to tell theirs as it is for them to hear yours. Employee experiences are especially influential because of the authenticity it reveals. 92% of people are more likely to trust a recommendation from another person over branded content; the strength of these numbers alone shows the value behind storytelling.
The goal of any internal communications plan should be to engage employees, and what better way to do that than to make your audience feel something? People are more likely to remember and rally behind something that inspires emotion, especially when it is an emotion they are likely to match. The way audiences consume information is consistently changing, and that same concept applies to your employees. The constant upgrades in digital and social technology make it difficult to capture the attention of your staff with the older, more traditional methods. Rather than distributing memos and PowerPoint decks, organizations should focus on cultivating and amplifying employee voices.
Research on the neuroscience of the human mind shows that stories have the power to get our brains working, get us excited, and appeal to our emotion driven type of thinking. For internal communications, this is exactly what is needed to get internal employees excited about where they work.
Storytelling and your content
The dream of every internal communicator is to create content that employees actually look forward to receiving. Thankfully there are many ways that dream can be realized, but first, communicators must change to suit the audiences they are targeting; the people that now seek information in a form they can connect with.
(Source: ABC Copywriting)
There is power in authentic employee storytelling. Including storytelling into your communication plan will serve to enhance the frequency and quality of your content, create a stronger bond with your employees and make internal communications an organizational strength.
But what kind of content is best to create? In an organization where the engagement of your employees is imperative, the most important thing to do is answer the question, “Why”.
Why are you doing this project? Why are these changes happening? Why did you get those results?
Explaining the context, reasoning and logic for decisions and discussion using storytelling as a technique ensures that everyone knows what is happening and brings them along with the vision and purpose of the company. This is particularly important when communicating change happening within the organization, when a lack of buy-in from employees could have far-reaching negative impact.
There are numerous kinds of content that can be created and shared. Here are a few recommendations for sourcing, collating, and creating more stories:
- Campaign for story submissions
- Encourage team competitions
- Give employees inspiration to blog about their experiences
- Ask for “A Day in the Life of Pieces”
- Create Live video recaps of events
Employees can be encouraged to submit stories and content with rewards and recognition, so it is important to take advantage of their abilities and live experiences.
Take time to consider the process for employees. How easy is it for them to create and submit their own stories? Are your internal communications tools set up to facilitate and encourage contributions? Are they easy to use, with a simple and intuitive user experience that means they can contribute without support from IT or their manager? Is it visible, and easy to access?
If you don’t have a defined process or route for your employees to get their voices heard, those stories will remain hidden.
Storytelling and your intranet
Once you have all these great stories, you may be at a loss for where to publish them. There are many mediums available in the workplace as a publishing location, but you do not want to choose them all. Failure to decide on the appropriate channel can lessen the effects of your content and even lead to communication overload in some cases.
If you are looking for a place with interactive capabilities then the number one choice for your storytelling posts is probably your intranet – here people have the ability to comment, share and like posts, giving them more exposure and getting more employees engaged. Other mediums can be your employee newsletter, your company Facebook page, or even social channels like Instagram or twitter. Sometimes these social pages make it easier to translate personal stories into a company brand in ways that more professional means would not.
No matter what channels you use, it’s how you use them that’s important. Consider creating a page solely for employee generated content. Here, employees will be able to find open and trustworthy dialogue about the inner workings of the organization from people they can trust – their colleagues. The more employees learn about each other, the easier it becomes to accomplish tasks that move the organization toward success.
The ultimate weapon
The benefits of storytelling are endless and can take the communications of your company to the next level. Broadcasting employee and leader stories is more than just a method to amplify important messages: it is a medium for connecting people at all levels. That connection leads to an empathetic understanding that is more powerful than the most logical and conventional communication means. Storytelling makes messages stick, and that power can be a crucial weapon in your internal communication strategy.