I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but it feels like a really long time since I have read a blog post or corporate communication or webinar invitation that wasn’t related to COVID-19. And I’d love to say this is that post, but it is not – at least not completely. This blog post has been rolling around in my head for a few months, pre-COVID even, but recent events have inspired me to finally put words on a page. More time on my hands has probably helped as well.
I was watching the Oscars this past February when either a presenter or award winner (I can’t recall who) referenced the power of a well-told story in his or her speech. As an avid reader, movie lover, and sometimes writer, stories of all types have always played a huge role in my life and this statement, obvious though it was against the backdrop of the Academy Awards, struck a chord. I have always deeply appreciated the way a story can transport me to another time or place, inspire me to look at situations from the perspectives of people and characters different from me, and stir in me an array of emotions. I took out my phone, went to my ‘blog post ideas’ folder, and jotted down ‘storytelling’ with the loosely transcribed speech quote. In recent weeks, as I have been moved to tears, to anger, and to action in some instances by the stories I have read, I am reminded again of this power. But this post is not about how much I love stories.
In addition to reading about how this global crisis is impacting the world of business in the news, I have seen firsthand how my own clients across various industries (retail, grocery, pharma, and financial services to name a few) have responded. And to say that I’m impressed and honoured to work with these organizations is a gross understatement. Some have pivoted, some have leaned in, some have pulled back or pressed pause to allow for thoughtful evaluation and planning, but all have responded quickly and intentionally with the well-being of their employees and customers in mind. Storytelling is a major component of employer branding, and probably my favourite component. There is a lot of other stuff that happens behind the scenes — the research, the data analysis, the strategy, the activation — but all of these efforts serve the same purpose and that purpose is to help organizations tell their true, authentic, and unique story.
While I am an advocate for telling compelling stories in good times, now is the time for storytelling as well. You may be wary of kicking storytelling efforts into high gear amid a global pandemic. You don’t want to look like an opportunist or like you’re trying to capitalize on unprecedented adversity. But there’s a funny thing about bad times. It is often in bad times when strength of character is revealed. People all around the world are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, helping others in need, and asking themselves, “what else can I do?” So, if you’re like me and find yourself marveling at the way a colleague is juggling zoom calls with homeschooling and childcare, or the way grocery clerks are returning to work everyday donning uncomfortable masks and gloves as they serve customers and clean stores meticulously, or the transparent and compassionate communication from leaders who truly have the best interests of their people at heart, then I urge you to tell these stories. Not only do these stories deserve to be told, but in the face of grim headline after grim headline, we need these stories to celebrate our achievements, connect us to others, motivate us to keep going, and inspire more positivity in the world. They won’t fall on deaf ears either. Media consumption has seen a massive increase! See how the World Economic Forum has broken down changing media habits by generation.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
In supporting a newly virtual workforce and navigating the many unknowns of the future, adding a storytelling initiative to the to-do list may seem counterintuitive. However, this effort does not need to be an onerous one and does not require a big budget. Start small and ask yourself a few questions first.
What is it you want to achieve?
- The most impactful stories are not those where employees regurgitate the values they have seen posted on the wall of the break room. In fact, I would argue those are not stories at all. The most impactful stories are real experiences, feelings, interactions, and challenges overcome. Thinking about what types of stories will celebrate, connect, motivate, and inspire is a good place to start.
Who can you call on to help?
- No person is an island. Leverage the expertise of the people around you (probably not literally around you at the moment, but you know what I mean). Call on your Employer Branding Superteam. Ask leaders in your organizations to nominate employees they feel have compelling stories to share and encourage them to share their own. Are there employees in your organization who have expressed the desire to get more involved, try something new, grow professionally? Invite them to lead the charge. Empower your employees to tell their own stories. HubSpot is just one company showing us that it can be done in a way that’s engaging and on brand.
What tools do you have at your disposal?
- How do you communicate across your organization today? Can you communicate en masse to your whole population via email or another tool? If so, great! If not, no problem. Ancient civilizations passed down their cultural narratives long before smartphones and the internet. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! But of course, leverage these tools if you’ve got them. Communicate this initiative widely. Build excitement around it. Get creative. Google forms and folders, private social media groups, and messaging apps are just a few free tools to support your effort. Think about collecting photos and videos too.
Where do the stories go?
- So, you’ve collected some compelling stories. Now what? There is no single answer to this question. Maybe you have clear communications guidelines. But if you don’t, a good rule of thumb is to consider your audience. Is your audience on LinkedIn? Facebook? Instagram? A combination of these? Follow your audience. And if you post across various platforms, adapt your content accordingly. Upon posting, use tags, encourage lots of sharing, and link back to your career page so that piqued interest is met with easily accessible information.
Stories and storytelling have both an internal and an external impact, but in this instance, let the internal impact motivate your approach. Let the intention to celebrate, connect, motivate, and inspire your people drive this effort. This is the surest way to represent your organization in a way that is true and authentic, grow pride and membership across your organization, and bolster your culture in these trying times. If you get this right, the external piece will follow.
As always, if you have any questions or would like support or guidance in your storytelling efforts, we’re here to help!