When I talk to organisations and leaders about storytelling I'm often faced with a combination of confused looks and eye rolling. But the truth of the matter is that stories are the BEST way to connect your people to your business. In telling stories you can connect with your staff, increasing their engagement and, in turn, improving business performance.
Steve Jobs was a pioneer in storytelling, using images and one-line ideas to support the stories he told - and boy could he bring a room with him! TED Talks similarly - speakers are expected to talk in simple terms using images and stories underpinned by a strong narrative. They stick to that formula because they know it works.
Why are stories important?
We've all had to sit through boring presentations - hour upon hour of PowerPoint lists, facts and figures. Generally, science tells us that it goes in one ear and out the other. Putting it simply, we're not good and remembering lists of facts - particularly when we aren't all that engaged in the subject matter (think corporate strategy or an upcoming change for example).
What's a 'story'?
Lets not get too overwhelmed by this! For me, it's often nothing more than an example or a 'proof story'.
Let's say that you're launching your new company values - We're a Team; We're Honest; We're Commercial; We're Courageous. We're Dedicated.
We all understand what those words mean. But what do they mean in THIS context? For example, what does being Courageous at work look like? How does it feel?
That's where stories come in - to be able to give an example of where someone else in your business has exhibited that value, where THEY were courageous, what they did and the outcome means people can relate to it. Chances are that, in that example, lots of people in that business are being courageous every day but until you create that link for them they don't realise they're doing it!
Leaders have a key role to play.
Stories can bring business to life for people whether it be strategy, new corporate values, a new performance management system or the need for constant development. The role for leaders is to find (or create) stories that can bring important issues to life for their teams in a way that resonates with them. In my experience, leaders aren't always comfortable using stories - it's easier to stick to the 'logical bullet lists on a slide'. Unfortunately, in doing so they're missing a massive opportunity to engage their people more emotionally.
In this Forbes article, “The CEO as Storyteller in Chief” the author explains how CEOs use storytelling to enhance their own company stories. 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. And he talks about Bill Gates' dream of putting a PC into every home in the world (madness surely?!)
This article from Fast Company shares some useful hints and tips on storytelling and some of the reasons why it can be so impactful - it's worth a look.
Where do you find stories?
At my 'Creating a Culture of Change' Masterclass I spend some time talking about where you can find stories - they're all around us so mostly it's a case of just being a bit more receptive to them. It's similar to writing this blog - I'm forever scribbling a headline, writing a few words down or taking a photo of something that might (or might not!) turn into a blog post eventually. The same is true of stories - be more open to 'hearing' them
That said, there are of course ways to get stories to bubble to the surface. Here are just a few:
Recognition programmes are a great place to find stories of people who make a real difference in your organisation
Customer feedback is a great source of stories in this 'Customer First' world. Unfortunately, we don't often have frameworks in place to ensure that those stories are well shared - so create one!
Customer complaints, when handled well, can often make great stories - 'we screwed up - we're only human - but we fixed the problem by ......................... and the customer is happier than ever.'
Your intranet - if you allow commenting on intranet articles there will always be stories and ideas there that can be harvested and reused.
So the message this week is simple - look for stories and start using them to strengthen how you communicate with your people.
And we'll all live happily ever after...
New 'Creating a Culture of Change' Masterclass - 21 June, IAA, D'Olier St, Dublin 2
Following on from the success of previous sessions I'm running another master class - click here for more. Here are just some of the brands who've attended previous sessions.
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