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Achieve Employee Engagement Using Corporate Storytelling

This was originally published on on April 13, 2018.

How Corporate Storytelling Facilitates Employee Engagement

All good businesses use storytelling to some extent, whether for marketing, for training, or even for inspirational messages for employee engagement. In these instances, “storytelling” isn’t so much about pure entertainment as it is about education. You can use storytelling to talk about your products or services to clients and employees, to create work scenarios for training, or simply to provide more engaging, effective communication between management and employees. In 2015, Dr. Robert Gill from Swinburne University of Technology documented several key benefits of corporate storytelling:

  • Story objectives can remain the same, even when the content is personalized.
  • The knowledge presented through narration is more believable as receivers apply their own interpretation and experiences to the information.
  • Effective corporate stories appeal to emotions and have a lifecycle relating to the organization.
  • Employees may adopt a notion of ownership over corporate narrations and stories by applying their own experiences to the message.
  • When employees are comfortable with their organization’s values and work practices they become important assets to enhancing company reputation.

Clearly, the benefits of management utilizing storytelling are well-documented. But how often are employees the storytellers rather than the listeners?

Researchers Mendez, Arkoubi, and Cai-Hillon argue that in education when students become the storytellers, student retention and engagement with course information increase, and their critical thinking skills increase as well. Why not the same in business? If you want to change something about your company culture, efficiency, or productivity, each employee needs to understand how a changing part of their attitude or their behavior will benefit either them or the company.

However, getting adults to change often deeply-ingrained beliefs and behaviors can be difficult. This is where storytelling can become a critical tool. We know from Malcolm Knowles’ studies of adult learning that adults need the following for an effective instruction:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
  3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

When employees become the storytellers, all of these criteria are covered, meaning that your employees will have the best chance of learning what you want them to learn.

Storytelling Exercises

Storytelling exercises can be used in a wide variety of situations, from corporate-wide training to small team-building activities. You may have done or experienced some form of these exercises in the past but centering them fully around principles of storytelling can enhance their efficacy in the long run.

Scenario Development

A familiar “scenario” activity looks like this: management provides a fictional scenario, and the employees need to solve the problem the scenario presents. In scenario development, however, the employees are the ones developing the initial scenario based on a topic of the management’s choice.

Employees can work in small groups (or even individually) to create scenarios about a current company issue. Because they have authorship, they can include the challenges they experience in real life, giving them the opportunity to voice concerns they have rather than just listening to the issues management sees.

In larger groups or as a whole, employees and management can work on solutions to each scenario together, allowing management to voice the solutions they see while simultaneously allowing employees to have a say and receive feedback about their current challenges.

Sharing Real Stories

We often hear success stories from people at the top; occasionally, we might hear a story of failure (usually ending, ultimately, in success). But to engage all employees, people from all levels of the company need to have a voice and feel like their successes and challenges matter.

Providing space, where employees in various roles can share stories of success, failure or challenge can validate their experiences and help them feel connected to others in the company.

Success stories give a chance for everyone to celebrate a little, while stories about challenges or failure can help promote empathy and provide opportunities for discussing solutions.

You have to decide how and when these stories should take place, but providing the space for a diverse array of voices can provide insight to management that you would never otherwise get.

Role Practicing

We usually know this activity as “role-playing”, but George Rahlf, who spent years as the Global Supply Chain Innovation Leader at Procter & Gamble, prefers to call it “role practicing”. He once explained that the purpose of role-playing is practice for real-life situations. So, why not call it what it is?

Role-playing often makes people feel awkward and uncomfortable. Changing the terminology can help change our underlying assumptions of what it is: role-playing seems like a game that has the minimal purpose; role practicing is hypothetical storytelling, which provides a space to practice new things with zero risks. As an additional perk, role practicing allows employees to learn from each other, provide feedback, and gain confidence in their abilities.

Increased Employee Engagement

As the Corporate Training Director, Diane Seffner says, “Stories don’t just inspire. They also provide vicarious experiences where people can ‘try on’ new ways of acting and responding”.

Your employees will no longer be just passive listeners as you explain new policies, procedures, products, or ideas. Rather, they will be actively exploring, experimenting, and engaging with the content you provide. They get to try it for themselves and become problem-solvers for your company, and you get to learn from their experiences about what works and what doesn’t.

Storytelling provides active learning opportunities in a non-threatening environment, and allowing your employees to become the storytellers provides them with increased autonomy and opportunities to be heard. As a result, they will feel more invested in the company and its mission, which can only benefit the company as a whole.

Reach out and connect with us if you’re looking for ways to better connect employees.