Has this ever happened to you? You’ve got an important message or a new program to share at an employee meeting. You know it will be revolutionary, empowering team members to grow and drive performance. Yet the magic is somehow lost in translation. You look out over a sea of disinterested—or worse—bored faces.
Now imagine what happens when you begin this way:
“Once upon a time…”
Did their ears perk up? Did they maybe even lean in? Just a little?
There’s a reason for that.
From the beginning of human time, stories have been the most effective way to pass on traditions, history, values and culture. To influence, persuade, rally, and pretty much get people to listen to and retain your message. And it’s about more than just being entertained.
Neuroscientists have discovered that there are chemical changes that occur in the human brain when we experience a good story. Oxytocin, that feel-good chemical that subtly and powerfully influences people to not only pay attention but to WANT to cooperate is released when we are emotionally engaged by the power of stories.
You don’t have to be Stephen Spielberg to tell a good story.
Stories have these elements in common:
A character we care about or relate to who wants something dear to him
Something or someone who gets in the way of what he wants
A breathless moment during which we’re very afraid our hero won’t get what he wants, and then, “Ah…” A turning point
Our hero either gets what he wants or doesn’t. But either way, he is changed forever and life settles into a new normal.
How can you achieve your business objectives with stories that engage, persuade, and move people to action? For starters, learn to see your communications in terms of:
Characters (team members, leaders, and customers)
Desires (objectives you & your audiences want to achieve such as a better working environment, a more engaged workforce, a more effective performance management plan)
Obstacles to achieving those desires (not enough money, inadequate systems and processes, the wiles of human nature)
Now go tell the story of how your hero climbed that mountain and planted his flag and be specific about how he did it. Your audience will want to climb that mountain with you.
Need help telling your stories? You’re in luck because that’s what we do here at Insight Strategic Communications. We help businesses tell their stories and get what they want, whether that’s buy-in for a new training platform or accelerating performance or engaging employees. Contact us today and let’s talk about how we can help with storytelling in internal communications (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Who is the worst boss you ever worked for? Someone immediately comes to mind, right? Perhaps there’s more than one person. Maybe your horror story is a client that was so difficult that you found a way to fire yourself from that relationship.
As years go by, we tend to add a little varnish to these nightmare stories. It becomes the legend that you share at parties when comparing nutty workplaces. Each person tells their story and everyone howls at the absurdity of the situation. I can think of three stories immediately (all true):
When I worked in a public school system Central Office, the Superintendent, who made three times more than anyone else, invited us to his home for a holiday party. There were about 20 people total. He sent out a note asking everyone to bring a dish and to give him $5 to cover the cost of the ham, which he was providing. His wife was so mortified that she welcomed us at the door with $5 bills, essentially reimbursing the “cover charge.”
Once my boss, an SVP, told me in all sincerity to keep working hard because “One day we’re going to want a woman Vice President in this company.”
Recently a client requested the design files for a completed project. He was in a hurry to get it, so we overnighted the package and sent him the tracking information. About 4 p.m. the next day he called me and unleashed a tirade that would burn your eyebrows off. The clean version is that he expected to get what he paid for and that we were cheating him by not turning over the files. A quick review of the tracking detail showed that the files had been delivered at 9:00 a.m. that morning and signed for by one of his employees. We don’t work with him anymore.
When I think about the worst people I’ve worked for or with, it fundamentally comes down to respect: I did not respect the individual or thought they didn’t respect me.
Are you the star of someone’s worst boss story? With 70% of American workers reporting that they are not engaged, there are lots of opportunities for leaders to do better. Here are few simple things you can do to connect better with your team members:
Expect the best in people-People will live up to your expectations, good or bad.
Ask and listen-When people feel unnoticed, they are less likely to care about their job.
Let people know you better-Show who you are. Talk about your favorite team, hobby or family trip so your team can get to know you.
Say thank you-It costs nothing to say thank you and it always makes a difference.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That may have crossed the minds of some partners at the Clifford Chance law firm after the blowback from a leaked internal document to the website Abovethelaw.com.
The website mocked a recently distributed five-page “Presentation Tips for Women” produced by the firm’s Women’s Committee. The document, which certainly lacked a good editor, moves from helpful to patronizing fairly quickly. Among the more ridiculous tips are these:
Practice hard words
Wear a suit, not your party outfit
Don’t hide behind your hair
Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe
Watch out for the urinal position
No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage
Initial reaction: Is there any reason why presentation tips should be gender-specific? Next thought: It’s amazing that this was written by women for women. It made me wonder if the Women’s Committee drafted the document at a local Mexican restaurant with a flip chart, markers and several pitchers of margaritas. You can read the entire document here: Clifford Chance: Presentation Tips for Women
So what went wrong? Most of the information was basic Presentation 101 stuff, applicable to anyone prepping for a big presentation. It was accurate and helpful. There was probably a defined need to polish presentation skills. However, it’s the snarky stuff that changed this from a dull internal email to a headline on Huffington Post. The intention may have been good but the execution provides a case study on why it’s difficult to use humor in internal communications.
Here are four tips for ensuring your messaging doesn’t backfire with colleagues.
1) Treat the audience with respect—Think professionals, not pals. Spend a little time providing context. It helps the reader understand what’s in it for them. In this case explaining how appearance, posture and composure influence the audience is better than saying “Don’t squirm. Don’t giggle. Don’t rock on your heels.”
2) Use company values as guideposts. Reread the company values. They set the tone for your company culture. If the content doesn’t support your values, don’t use it.
3) Use humor sparingly—There’s a thin line between hilarious and offensive. Humor is subjective. It can work in internal communications if it’s positive and relatable for your entire audience. When in doubt, have a colleague review it to get another perspective. It may not be as funny as you think it is.
4) Less is more—The only thing that kept me reading through the Clifford Chase memo was the hope of finding more offensive material. Five pages of presentation tips is four pages too many. People are busy, so keep it concise and on point.
A house that’s built on an unstable foundation has little chance of being structurally sound. Similarly, a business that doesn’t align itself from top to bottom will find itself on shaky ground. Effective internal communications will serve as a way to inform, motivate, and guide your workforce toward your ultimate goals. Here are a few basic principles to help keep your communications aligned from top to bottom:
1. Take internal communications seriously. Often a business gets so caught up with external communications that internal communications are neglected. This is a serious problem. If your employees don’t understand your company vision how can your customers? Engage internal communications with the same enthusiasm and creativity that you would use when communicating with your customers.
2. Be consistent. If your message isn’t consistent, your communications won’t be effective. Once a message strategy is decided on, use the same consistent message across all available mediums (email, newsletters, videos, company meetings, etc.).
3. Get feedback from your employees. Employee feedback is often one of the most underutilized resources in internal communications. Give your employees the opportunity to tell you what areas you are doing well in and where you need to improve.
4. Set up measures to gauge the success of your internal communications. Successful internal communications can be measured many ways such as employee action, feedback, efficiency, or personal development. Once you have decided on an appropriate measure, track your success and refine your strategy if your goals are not met
Communication is key, and never was this more apparent to me than when I found my 14-year-old self alone and utterly lost in the streets of Rome, Italy at two o’ clock in the morning.
“Whatever you do, stick together,” were Dad’s last words to me and my brother before we headed off for a jog together around midnight.
Off we went, on our last night in The Eternal City before returning stateside the next morning, jaunting through a wonderfully historic town. When we were only blocks away from finishing the run, we were separated by a streetlight that had turned colors while we were on opposing sides. I insisted that my brother finish the run and I’d be right behind him.
I thought I knew best. That was a mistake.
I was indeed a block away, but I didn’t realize at the time that I needed to turn down the road instead of going straight. I ran and ran, expecting at any moment to see the bright white shine of St. Peter’s Basilica rise over the horizon (to which our hotel was in close proximity).
Knowing next to no Italian, I couldn’t find my way to where I needed to go. I saw a man sitting alone on a park bench and asked him where St. Peter’s Basilica was in the best way I could get him to understand.
“Dove St. Peter’s Basilica?” I asked, knowing the Italian word for “where,” but not St. Peter’s itself.
“Ah, San Pietro,” he responded.
“Erm, no. Saint Peter’s? You know? The big one? Grande basilica?” I asked again as I motioned with my hands. It was at that point I realized I was now speaking to him in broken Spanish — not my finest hour. Luckily, I found my way back just before the sun rose.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how we tell our stories (from a business sense). It’s important that our clients, and more importantly our colleagues, know where the business is heading. When we do this, we need to speak their language, so let’s leave the corporate lingo at the door, shall we? In Rome, if I could’ve communicated in a language that the man on the bench could understand, I would’ve been back in no time. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.