Why Tell Authentic Stories In The Workplace?

Content marketing, content creation and the likes are some of 2015’s early buzzwords: Create content to connect with customers, employees, and potential future employees and everything will be great.

And while content is important, it’s not about sharing content. It’s about sharing meaningful stories.

I like to joke that my 7-year-old doesn’t come up to me and says “Daddy, please read me some content.” Of course, she says, “Daddy, please read me a story.”

People – that includes families and companies – connect around a shared story. This is also sometimes called a shared narrative.

It has been documented that stories stimulate different parts of the brain more than a 51-point PowerPoint slide does, for example. Stories make us feel something. Stories make us remember.

Interestingly, narratives inside organizations already exist and have existed for a long time. People have told stories by sharing their experiences, their purposes (or lack thereof) and by dreaming about a goal for the future.

We connect around our positive and forward-looking stories, and when not handled correctly, teams can be driven apart by our negative stories and experiences.

In addition to verbal storytelling, some stories from the workplace are now being shared on social media networks and sometimes on blogs. From time to time, people get in trouble for saying something negative about their workplace. Whether it’s true or not is not relevant. It was negative!

Some companies are starting to understand the importance of sharing authentic stories and are allowing their employees to be brand advocates.Trappe

The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for example, published internal stories publicly on its “Our Voice” site in 2014. That’s a good start, but there are many more stories that can be shared all around.

I spoke at the Workplace (R)evolution event in 2014 and I asked audience members to turn to their neighbor and share a meaningful story with them. I asked them where I could find those stories published. Just one person raised his hand. None of The Gazette employees’ stories had been published in the “Our Voice” section either.

So, it takes time for organizations to adapt. To get there it’s a shift in mindset. It’s OK to share our authentic stories and to allow employees to share their successes. But isn’t that boasting? It’s certainly a fine line. You could encourage employees to share each other’s success stories. Now it’s recognition!

But it has to be authentic and true. Allowing employees to share blogs about their experiences, but asking them to get those experiences approved by four vice presidents has the potential for inauthenticity and is close to a traditional marketing approach.

But, what if employees can’t be responsible with what they share, you might ask? What if they just want to trash the company? This doesn’t sound like a storytelling problem to me? That sounds like a staffing problem. Why are these people associated with the organization in the first place? Or maybe there’s an underlying morale problem in the company.

There are some steps – simple ones, in theory – to get authentic storytelling started in your organization. Stories happen every day, but they won’t be shared until:

  • Top leaders explicitly endorse the initiative.
  • Top leaders and other leaders share their own stories publicly.
  • People who take initiative and share stories are publicly recommended for this.
  • People are given time to share authentic stories.

You might wonder:  Why would your organization invest in this? Isn’t this just the latest buzzword? Yes and no. It is a bit of a buzzword, but people relate to each other through stories.

The stories you share and that are being shared already will have an impact on recruiting, retaining talented employees and will ultimately even help with customer acquisition.

Note: Christoph Trappe will be the guest on the January 28th TalentCulture #TChat Show, which will run from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT).

About the Author: Christoph Trappe is a U.S.-based digital branding strategist. He writes about story development, distribution and audience engagement at The Authentic Storytelling Project.

photo credit: GollyGforce – Living My Worst Nightmare via photopin cc