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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Ianko

Organizational Storytelling: A Guide

I have many times sat in a business meeting feeling utterly bored and wondering what my mischievous cocker spaniel is up to and where in the world I hid that last piece of chocolate brownie from my toddler. Feelings of boredom and despair get mixed with feelings of pity for the poor presenter. I do my very best to stay alert and closely follow the presentation, but alas! I often fail miserably.

I know this sounds terrible, but truth be told, nothing can be duller than a PowerPoint presentation and a presenter reading slide after slide with tedious numbers, statistics, and fancy company target lists.

Let’s be honest here. I bet you have found yourself in this position numerous times because up until recently, quantitative data and process orientation was the only thing that mattered. Managers would force-feed data, charts, statistics, and monetary projections to their team members. While all this is necessary and important, little is remembered after the meeting is said and done.

Why? Because in this world of short attention span and constant bombardment of never-ending information, there is a finite number of facts our brain can process and selectively store in our long-term memory for future retrieval.

People rarely remember what you tell them unless what you say has an emotional impact on them. More importantly, people will not do what you tell them unless you have harnessed the power of emotions and plunged (your team members) into action. How do I do that, you may ask?

Enter the mightiness of storytelling.

Let Me Tell You A Story

Storytelling is not a new buzzword. It has been the favorite marketing darling for quite some time. The idea, however, that storytelling can be weaved into all aspects of communication, including internal communications, seems to be a new thing. There is evidence upon evidence that storytelling is the best way to engage and connect with an audience, so why not use storytelling to connect with your team members?

Storytelling is an important tool to leverage in internal communications since it promotes a sense of belonging and creates a deeper bond between managers, leaders, employees, and co-workers. Much of internal communications’ time is spent in sharing information and making sure everyone is up to date with business goals and values.

Impart this information in blunt presentations, and the information will be lost. Instead, use stories to motivate employees and put them in the midst of your storytelling to help them understand your company’s purpose and to embrace your values. This will help your team members commit to organizational change and strive towards excellence.

But how do you go about telling a story?

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time lived a very successful business manager who harnessed the power of organizational storytelling. He reaped its benefits and created a competitive advantage for his company through strategically shifting his internal communications strategy. These are his secrets in a step-by-step guide in successfully using organizational storytelling today.

1. Connect Through Authentic Language Use

When communicating with your team member, do not use your company’s jargon, acronyms, and particular vocabulary. This takes away from your storytelling’s authenticity and shifts it back to being a boring presentation doing its best to be disguised as a story. Use too much corporate-speak, and you will inadvertently fuel mistrust and distance yourself from your audience. You need to make a connection with your team, not separate yourself as the boss boasting of your expertise, passing down knowledge to them.

The best way, therefore, to connect with your employees or team members is to be authentic and share a story about your own personal experience. Talk to them like you would talk to any other friends in a casual, nonchalant way. Share your emotions, your thoughts, your dreams. Let them know of your struggles to bring your company to where it is now and of the stumbling points, you had to overcome. Be open about your fears and worries, and invite them to share your values and be a part of your vision. Ask their opinion and their help in promoting this vision and turning it into higher conversion rates.

The bottom line is this: we remember stories, especially stories that are authentic and touch us emotionally. Bullet points and PowerPoint presentations, on the other hand, not so much.

2. Motivate Success

When it comes to motivating your team members to succeed, nothing can be more potent than storytelling. Share stories of people in your business organization that have succeeded and have progressed through the ranks despite their personal challenges and hardships. Inspire your team to emulate such examples and motivate them to succeed. Show your employees how your organization can support and applaud their efforts and how the sum of each individual success is greater than the whole. Share the personal experience of triumph and motivate your team.

Do not be afraid to share failures. This is what makes storytelling authentic. Not everyone succeeds in their first go. Instead, show them how their co-workers struggled before succeeding or how you, as the manager, have numerous times fallen and risen. This is what leads to success, perseverance, and grit. Being open about pitfalls, failures, and stumbling points will foster a culture of acceptance and learning. Just remember that showing your humanity and vulnerability can do wonders in bringing you closer to your team members and making them feel comfortable sharing their own failures. However, you should not leave your story at that. You should make sure to end the story with a plan to amend these mistakes and a message of hope and inspiration.

A message of hope will motivate your team members to keep trying. In the end, FAIL is only an acronym for First Attempt In Learning. Do it multiple times, never give up, and success will eventually come.

3. Share A Compelling Corporate Narrative

As the leader of an organization, you should use internal communication to share your business’ strategies and plans. Craft a compelling corporate story and follow your company’s chronicle in a memorable narrative.

Create a three-element structure for your narrative: the problem, the solution, and lessons learned.

Describe the problem and paint it as the villain of the narrative (because every story must have a villain to get the plot in motion). The villain can be decreased sales, diminishing customer interest, increased competition, etc.

Outline the solutions brought about by the heroes of your storytelling (yes, your team members are all Supermen and Wonderwomen, and you should make them feel this way if you are to gain their trust and push them to excel).

Once the solution is achieved, embed your organization’s vision and ambitions into lessons learned.

And voila! Now, you have your personalized team of superheroes and their undivided attention and their eagerness to succeed. Can memos and addendums and PowerPoints drive this action?  I highly doubt it.

4. Stay In Tune With Your Team Members

Storytelling is not about the individual “I” but how each different “I” turns into a collective “We.” Do not use stories to show force from senior management. Do not use storytelling as an opportunity to cast yourself in the limelight of your organization’s production. Storytelling is not a stage show. It is about individuals within the organization, building relationships on a more authentic level where everyone is equally valuable and equally respected. Top-down approaches should be left in the past, along with dull and drab presentations.

Instead, stay in tune with your team members. Allow each and every one of them to share their story and make sure that all stories resonate with your company’s mission. You want to ensure that you are not competing. You are all part of a bigger narrative, your organization’s narrative. Remember, you are all superheroes fighting the same villain (enter Marvel Avenger’s theme song). Each story must bring the organization’s vision and underlying culture into sharp focus and be a natural extension of your goals. Otherwise, the stories will not resonate with your organization and they will not have any real meaning. Remember, human beings pay more attention to stories, but inconsistent and irrelevant stories can do more harm than a bunch of boring presentations altogether.

At the end of the day, you all have something to learn from each other, and each has his or her own unique powers. All you have to do is encourage them to use their power for the collective benefit of the company.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Gone are the days of the top-down approach of force-feeding your team members tons of data, charts, numbers, statistics, and memorandums. Successful team managers use compelling stories to share information and to encourage their employees and co-workers to share the organization’s vision.

Humans are emotional beings. They forget what you tell them, but they never forget how you make them feel. As humans, we seek to connect with other humans and bullet points and PowerPoint presentations fail miserably in creating human bonds. Stories, however, are extremely potent in bringing people close to one another and building relationships on solid foundations of trust.

Embrace the art of organizational storytelling and reap its rewards. Just remember to use authentic language, to admit to your failures and motivate success, to create a compelling organizational narrative, and to stay in tune with your team.

If you are still not sure how to practice organizational storytelling, why don’t you check the new amazing course for content writers and team managers here? In the meantime, excuse me while I go unearth my hidden brownie piece.


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