THE BLOG
08/22/2014 11:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's Story Time: Corporate Storytelling Brings Results

I have a secret to tell you: I LOVE storytelling nights. It's like glimpsing eight different worlds in the span of a few hours, leaving me with memories, laughs, lingering questions and tears. The power of storytellers sharing their lives with the audience cannot be underestimated. The same power can be brought to your business with corporate storytelling.

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Storytelling in the Corporate Environment, Really?

Stories open the door for true engagement on many levels. Instead of using only mental engagement, listeners tap into their emotional and spiritual energy as well. They get to explore their values as they match or oppose the story at hand. These experiences are drivers of transformation.

Storytelling is an Effective Tool for Leaders

Leaders can use the emotional response to storytelling as a tool to achieve important goals. On a broad level, storytelling can be used to create company culture by sharing hero stories, providing inspiration to team members, defining organizational values, teaching lessons and giving others the opportunity to get to know you and your core values.

Stories can be very helpful when facing delicate situations as a leader as well --approaching diversity training, getting the company back on track from a unproductive diversion of goals, or rekindling the passion in teams that have lost their spark. Trying to face sensitive issues such as those with declarative statements, rulebooks, or expository speaking won't be as effective. Give your team the opportunity to connect with the message, and experience it both mentally and emotionally. Your desired outcome will be easier to reach.

Stories Are Already Being Told

Stories are told about your organization whether you create them yourself or not. Employees tell stories, clients share stories and certainly competitors do too. Sometimes those stories aren't the greatest.

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For example, a new employee joins the team and is grabbing coffee in the office kitchen with a colleague who has been there five years. The seasoned employee casually tells the new employee:

"This coffee is really bad. Back when John Smith was CEO, the kitchen was fully stocked with breakfast items and snacks. We had an espresso maker and catered lunches on Fridays. When Sarah Roberts became CEO, our kitchen became barren. The quality of the writing materials even decreased. Printer paper was suddenly monitored. Now, all we get is bagels on Fridays. The executives on 53 probably still have a stocked kitchen--we just aren't very important down here."

Wow. The first day of work for someone that you've invested resources in and are excited to have join the team... and this is the story they hear? That story could decrease morale. It could also cause you to lose your new hire.

You can't control every story that is told about your organization, but you can work hard to create good ones, and back them up with truth and intention.

What if the newer CEO had a story of her own that pertained to the cutbacks mentioned? A story like this:

When Sarah took her position, it was important to her that she took the time to visit every department. In accounts receivable, she met Joanne, who had been with the company for 25 years. Joanne started as part of an under-served communities educational program, working part time while earning her Associates Degree. Joanne is now a mentor herself and started a company-wide initiative to provide PTO to those willing to mentor.

Joanne was just one of many wonderful people Sarah met within all levels of the organization. She felt a deep responsibility for keeping the jobs of her employees secure. Sarah also has real gratitude for the work and dedication she's seen within the company. This gratitude and sense of responsibility really kicked in when she took this position as CEO at a company that was losing profits and heading quickly toward downsizing. She kept thinking of the dedicated, interesting and inspiring people she'd met and made it a priority to avoid letting anyone go. She set up a think tank with some of the employees she'd met and the CFO to find ways to cut back on expenses. After many late nights and weekends, Sarah, the think tank and the CFO came up with a plan, and now in Q4, no jobs have been lost.

Now that's the story a new employee should hear! But if it's not being told, your new talent will never know.

Stories and Sales

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Outside of the leadership realm, storytelling is an effective tool for marketing and sales. There's nothing new about using success stories on websites or marketing materials, but it is important to note that this strategy is derived from storytelling. Storytelling benefits elevator pitches, sales meetings, and even retail. Instead of reporting data, listing statistics and spouting out facts, which can make your potential client completely checkout, weave that information into a story. This ignites a client's curiosity and better captures attention. After all, stories are much more memorable than bar graphs!

It's not easy to "find your story" for a corporate environment. It takes a certain willingness to be more vulnerable when looking to instigate either laughter or emotion from an audience. Understanding how well it really works can be a tremendous motivator.

Take a minute to think of a story you've heard or told about your organization on a regular basis. What's the first one that comes to mind? What about that particular story makes it so memorable? I'm interested in your experience. Share it with me in the comment section below, find me on Twitter, or send me an email.