We can probably all remember loving stories as we grew up as children. Naturally when we hear people talk we love listening to their stories, because they ignite our imagination and fire up the right side of our brain, which speaks to our emotions, opposed to pure logic.
Even now, it’s in our nature to love stories – it’s why we watch Netflix, go to the movies or read books. Though have you ever thought about how you can use storytelling in the workplace to embed your culture into your team?
It might surprise you, but this is something that inspirational leaders of our time, like Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) constantly do.
First of all, let’s start by demystifying and simplifying what we mean when we refer to storytelling. Often when I talk about storytelling in the workplace, leaders naturally respond with:
“How do I tell a story? I don’t know any stories?”
It’s essential to understand that the stories you tell don’t need to be grandiose or complex in nature. Instead, you are simply sharing stories about things that are happening at work already, but retelling then in a way that links back to the culture you’re trying to create in your organisation.
Before we go into the process of how to tell great stories, it’s vital you understand the importance of these stories.
Essentially storytelling is important for three core reasons:
One of the first things that stories do is connect the dots for people.
By telling a story, you’re creating a visible link between things that a person does in their day-to-day and the bigger picture and vision for the organisation.
Moreover, these stories help people within your team see how different parts of an organisation fit together and how they all work in terms of your overall business model or your overall strategy.
2. Making culture real
The second reason stories play such a fundamental role in embedding culture, is that they bring the culture to life and make it feel more ‘real’.
Stories will allow your people to see and imagine what it means when they’re bringing your values to life and the kinds of behaviours that amplify your culture.
All of a sudden, your values will start to become more than a set of ‘mottos’ written down on a piece of paper, but behaviours that your team can strive to exhibit in their day-to-day work.
3. A sense of pride
The third reason stories are so important is because they help to give your people a sense of pride about your organisation. When we tell great stories it takes us back to our past, to our heritage, to our DNA, and no matter how long we’ve worked for a business or how long a business has been around, all of a sudden through those stories we feel a much greater sense of pride and connection to the company.
Now you have an understanding of why storytelling is important, now let’s tackle the more challenging element:
How can you actually tell great stories to your team? What stories should you actually tell?
To help you on this journey we’ll share 5 simple stories you can start telling to your team to help you get them on board with the culture you are building.
One: The journey of the founders
Go back to when the business started, no matter how long ago that was, even if it’s only a couple of years old.
Share the story of the people who first started the business… what was their personal story, what was their personal journey, what was the context behind it? What struggles did they overcome when starting the business everyone is now working in today?
Two: Milestones from the company’s journey
Share key moments in time where there were breakthroughs or key moments where the company was really challenged and tested, but it came out the other side. Refer back to key innovations the allowed the company to go to the next level, and how the culture of the organisation was a big part in allowing that to happen.
Tell stories about the impact that you have on your customers or our clients. Talk about those small human moments and how the company is making a difference, how your products and services are making a difference, and how you can see that your culture has allowed that impact to happen.
Four: Team members rallying together
Have some stories in your storytelling arsenal that show your culture in action amongst team members. These could be times where people have come together, cooperated, supported each other, and overcome big challenges and successfully driven a project to fruition. Stories like this will be the easiest for your team to relate to, and also give them something to aspire to.
Five: Failures and challenges
While it can be easy to focus on the positives when telling stories, what’s equally important is sharing stories about failures and challenges, where things didn’t go quite so well for the company. Get comfortable sharing stories about mistakes that the company’s made, mistakes that you’ve made as a leader, and reflect on how this mistakes have enabled growth and learning.
No matter what kind of story you are telling, remember in each instance to relate key learnings back to your company values and culture.
Doing so will make your culture start to become more tangible in the eyes of your employees, and enable them to see patterns of people amplifying the behaviours associated with those values.
For now I encourage you to do two things:
- Start looking out for stories: Once you start thinking about storytelling you’ll start noticing stories more and more in the work place. Think about a leader that inspires you – either someone in the public sphere, or something you have worked for. What stories do they tell to embed their culture?
- Think about and practice your own stories: Go through each of the categories above and think about 1-2 stories you could tell within each category. Next time you are hosting a team meeting, why not try telling one of these stories and seeing how it is received? While this might seem a little unnatural at first if you are not in the habit of doing this, it is only through execution and practice that this inspirational leadership technique will start to become second nature to you.
For more insights on how to use storytelling to embed your culture make sure you watch the video below: