August 9, 2013 • Jason Dressel
Corporate onboarding and training programs increasingly emphasize using storytelling as a best practice to help messages stick. Many companies are reconfiguring their learning model to ensure that their people come out of training informed and engaged.
Often, a video or a few presentation slides dedicated to the history of the organization is as deep as storytelling gets during training and orientation. While that’s sufficient for some, for others, that content may be largely irrelevant or just scratching the surface.
In that spirit, here are some proven approaches for integrating stories into the HR function. We’ve organized them by different job roles.
Sales: Give the Stories to the Best Storytellers. Most likely, your sales team is the most extroverted demographic of your workforce. The best sales performers are both good talkers and good listeners. This balance means they are a captive audience for stories that they can use with your prospects and customers. Sales training tends to focus on prospect targets, features, benefits, overcoming objections and points of differentiation. Using stories to illustrate these points is a key part of that differentiation. For example, the stories we’ve provided to one of our clients use their connections with iconic 20th century celebrities as a hook. As a result, the stories stick with the sales team, and they stick with the customers, too.
Executives and Managers: Put Your Company in Historical Perspective. Executives and managers tend to be more educated about your company’s industry than people in any other job role. They’re experienced, they may have previously worked for a competitor, and their job likely requires them to understand what’s happening in the industry. If they are new to your company, they need the tools to get up to speed.
We’ve found that onboarding programs rarely provide perspective that enables new managers to put their organization in the proper context. Stories that show moments of unique distinction enable leaders to be better stewards of the culture and brand. For example, we’ve facilitated exercises for clients in which groups work together to identify the most critical culture-shaping moments from their history that will be important to carry into the future as the company grows and evolves. Those that are “left behind” are determined to have less of an impact on future culture and decision-making.
Rank and File: Make it Personal. The general employee population is the key to success. Their loyalty and efficiency are often directly tied to customer retention, productivity and profits. Employees generally respond well to stories that relate to them. So you can imagine that a history presentation that focuses exclusively on the founder and other leaders through the years will not exactly resonate with the broad employee base. It’s important to include elements of the company story that show how the function of the rank-and-file has evolved through the years, and how they’ve contributed to the company’s success, to reaffirm that they’re part of the story. For example, the evolution of technology, client service and supply chains—and the diversification of people doing the work—are common themes that resonate.
Engineers and Technical Experts: The Evolution of Innovation. New hires or young professionals in more technical fields are interested in how stuff works. They tend to be curious, smart and skeptical. They value substance. We’ve found that stories about the evolution of a product or a history of innovation—even including efforts that failed—are well received. These stories encourage them to take risks. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful and candid element to the program that they may not expect.
Online training modules, interactive events, hands-on activities and other tools are changing the way organizations prepare and invest in their people. What hasn’t changed is the need for great content—and some good stories—to ensure the investment pays off.