The power of storytelling for engagement

Written by
Nigel Purse
The Oxford Group

28 Nov 2017

28 Nov 2017 • by Nigel Purse

How can sharing the story of your organisation drive employee engagement?

This article is provided to Changeboard by our Future Talent 2018 partners, City & Guilds Group. You can see Chris Jones, CEO, in conversation with other business leaders at Changeboard's Future Talent Conference 2018 discussing the topic of digital inclusion.

Telling authentic and personal stories about your organisation is one of the most powerful tools you as a leader can use to drive and sustain employee engagement.

This is because stories about your organisation help meet the emotional needs people have at work to be secure, to belong, to be part of something meaningful, worthwhile and successful in a way that facts, figures and logic never can. 

As a leader, how often have you spoken to your team about sales, growth or profitability and wondered why everyone seemed so uninspired? Of course, sales and profit matter, but they’re rarely the reason most people get out of bed in the morning enthusiastic to come into work and do a great job.

I remember one senior manager saying to us recently, “When I think about the teams I watch or the music and bands I listen to, I support them because of how they make me feel; here at work all we get from our CEO is facts and logic and data and it just leaves me cold.”

The solution: telling stories that connect with people on a personal level with authenticity. 

Why storytelling is so powerful for employee engagement

Numerous experts have written about the importance of authenticity and storytelling in helping to engage employees and give them a sense of organisational belonging. 

Hearing stories, especially those of which you are a part, meets fundamental needs rooted deeply in our evolutionary origins as human beings.

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari  argues that the very purpose of language is to enable human beings to co-operate together in pursuit of goals and enterprises greater than themselves by sharing (and believing) myths and stories about their place in the world. 

David Macleod, who led the Government’s employee engagement taskforce, agrees with this - his research found that one of the primary drivers of employee engagement is exposure to leaders who can articulate a clear narrative (or story) about their organisation.

These leaders are always talking about where their organisation has come from, where it is now, and most importantly where it is going in the future. 

How to find and deliver stories with impact

The obvious question that these insights provoke is: what sort of stories can you search out and relate as a leader in order to have this positive impact? 

Firstly, it’s about prioritising authenticity and personal connection in storytelling to influence employee engagement. In a business context, this means not being afraid to show your vulnerability and being open about learning from your mistakes. 

You still need to present business and financial results to your team with maximum enthusiasm and commitment, but if this is all you ever do it’s hard to reveal anything engaging about yourself that helps people connect on a human level. 

Secondly, stories that people can personally connect to are the most powerful. And the best way to find these stories is through authentic conversations with your team members and colleagues. Take the time to find out what genuinely drives them and what success means to them as individuals. 

Finally, we need to ask what type of stories to seek out and tell. These fall into three categories: 

  1. Firstly, there are stories from the past which illustrate the heritage and values of your organisation: from surviving through adversity to growing and succeeding, especially if this is against the odds. 
  2. Then, there are stories from the present, either personal or gathered from colleagues. These celebrate the hard work, ingenuity and successes of team members in meeting organisational challenges, developing quality products or services and championing the needs of customers. 
  3. Finally, there are stories about the future where you paint a picture of positive experiences and results that lie ahead when challenges are overcome and strategies are implemented effectively.

As an HR leader, you play an important role championing storytelling as a key feature of day-to-day organisational communication.

Remind your business leaders when they are undertaking team briefings or ‘townhHalls’ that it’s not enough to present the facts and figures –people need to hear stories too.


See City & Guilds Group at the Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2018

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