From watching Jackanory in our younger years, to swapping ghost stories with childhood friends, to enjoying multi-billion dollar Hollywood blockbusters, to chilling with a great novel in a favourite armchair, storytelling is an essential part of life for most of us, and one that starts with us early and never really leaves us.
But is storytelling really a part of Internal Business Comms? Surely, getting your messages safely to, and understood by, your audience is the battle won?
Most people would agree that one of the most fundamental components of successful change management is selling the change – explaining to those that are going to experience the change, why it is necessary and, hopefully, beneficial for them and the business.
The same simple principle applies across all internal comms.
Storytelling conveys purpose and engages people. It can generate loyalty and, therefore, profit.
Companies or people that tell their stories tend to win a greater share of attention or affection. Amazon’s start as a bookstore run from Bezos’s garage is a well-told tale, and J. K. Rowling’s personal rags-to-riches story is almost as fantastical and well-loved as the novels she wrote to earn her that happy ending.
What works for external customers works for internal people, too.
Here are four simple rules for enhancing internal comms through storytelling.
Know your audience.
If you are a leader and you don’t know what your people are thinking, feeling, worrying or excited about, then the best advice we have is to find out. This could be a full under-the-bonnet health check or as simple as a few quick, informal conversations. Setting the right tone, avoiding patronising language and hollow platitudes, and addressing specific concerns will get your messages to land with more meaning.
Depending on the size of your organisation and the scope of your workforce, this may require some different approaches, tailored to each group. One size may not fit all. Planning your comms effectively is fundamental.
Set the scene. Give some context.
This is the change management scenario mentioned above. Starting with “the why” should dispel the common rejections from employees unwilling to hear about “another unnecessary initiative from the top”. Telling the story behind your message will increase your chances of buy-in and support.
Cut to the chase. And be specific.
Nothing sets eyeballs rolling like a slew of meaningless cliches. If you are communicating about changes or new incentives, unspecific phrases like “this will improve the way we work”, “will make contract management easier”, “will bring departments together” etc. will not help your people understand what is actually going to happen within the business and, most importantly, what this means for them. Your plans will not have credibility, which means they will not have buy-in from the people you need to support the changes. Specific information about how people’s day-to-day will be affected, about time-scales, expected outcomes and how success will be measured will reassure and deliver credibility.
Be human. Don’t be afraid of humour or humility.
Almost no-one respects an inhumane taskmaster. Ruling by fear is a thing of the past. Showing humility, humanity and humour is not the same as showing weakness. It just makes you more relatable. A capacity for humility shows an honesty and a capacity for growth that most employees will appreciate and respect.
Similarly, if you can “laugh somebody into bed” (definitely not recommended in the workplace), you can laugh them into supporting your cause. A personal anecdote or humorous touch can reduce scepticism and build faith in you amongst your audience.
And, to take this storytelling piece into a more literal direction, selling your internal comms and telling your story using attention-grabbing visuals and videos brings this full circle and completes the picture nicely.
Back-story laid-out and script finalised?
It’s time for lights, camera, action… Comms success!