That’s the refrain of business leaders when employee performance doesn’t match expectations, or when a new initiative is greeted with a collective yawn. Employees must be too busy, disengaged or distracted to understand why this is important, right?
It’s a common predicament. Perhaps it’s not the audience, but the message.
There’s a far better way to engage internal audiences, and it doesn’t include handing out T-shirts and coffee mugs. Use storytelling to make an emotional connection.
We’ve been taught that “correct” business communications isvery detailed, data driven and cost/benefit oriented. It’s a proven formula. However, when the goal is to inspire action, introduce change, or persuade, storytelling is more effective. It helps ideas stick.
You know this is true. It’s how myths and legends are born. It’s why we share the same stories around the table at Thanksgiving or at reunions with old friends. It’s why the business origin stories for Coca Cola or Spanx are fascinating.
Engaging employees through storytelling binds them together in a shared experience. It’s a method anyone can use. Here are four tips to help you get started:
Start with the end in mind. What do you want your team to believe and do after they hear the story? Identify the objective and build the story around it.
Set the scene. A strong introduction is the key to a solid story. Engage the audience with a personal experience, a struggle or make an employee the hero.
Simplify. Twitter has taught us that we can make a point in 140 characters. A strong story, just like a good joke, adds just enough details to advance the story. Too much detail and you’ve lost them.
Be authentic. Use conversational language. Share something about you. The power to persuade is lost if the story sounds like it’s lifted from a user’s manual.
I’m sitting with friends in a mostly-empty Phillips Arena to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the Boston Celtics. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. We weren’t really there to watch the game. We were there to get autographs from players, to hang out in freely-upgraded seats near the court (to try to mask the poor attendance to television viewers), and to troll the opponents as they walked to and from the locker room. Tickets were only $10, so it was a pretty cheap way to waste a Friday night in high school. The Hawks lost by 20. But to look on the bright side, Hawks employees gave us a box of inflatable thunder sticks (inflatable noisemakers) to take home. By the end of the season, the Hawks had won 13 games, and we’d won four boxes of thunder sticks and several items of game worn memorabilia — five shoes, two headbands, and a sock.
The NBA is a glamorous TV product that is played by some of the best athletes on the planet. But in Atlanta, the team was so bad that most of the “crowd” (and I use that term loosely) had to find ways outside the court’s lines to entertain themselves. If you did focus on the game, it was ugly. Not only did the team rack up poor results, but the quality of the play was terrible. Lots of standing around. Lots of one-on-one offense. And lots of complaining by players and coaches, which lead to the same by the fans.
Skip ahead to today, where the Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference and are the only team to have punched their ticket for the playoffs with a hefty 18 games still remaining in the regular season. They produced four all-stars — a club record. They’ve had a 19 game winning streak, tied for the sixth longest in NBA history. I never would have believed such success was possible 10 years ago.
The credit has to go to Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and the players who have adopted his “team first” mentality. His leadership is a perfect example to any leader in any walk of life on how to turn a team into something greater than the sum of its parts. The newly found success of the team is rooted in this philosophy. For example, instead of letting players pick their lockers, or ordering them numerically or alphabetically, “Coach Bud” strategically sat each player next to one teammate they could influence and one who could influence them. He instituted team dinners after road games. The examples go on, but maybe nothing signifies the adoption of his methods more than this excerpt reported by SI.com’s Lee Jenkins:
“Everyone is part of the shot,” [shooting guard Kyle] Korver says. “Everyone matters, and if you feel like you matter, you take ownership.”
That’s engagement, folks. Engagement isn’t about how fun your job is or how often you talk to your boss. It’s about your employees knowing that they matter. Employees who feel valued are more productive and happy people. This is what every boss should aim for, not just the ones on the hardcourt.
If you’re a business owner or you lead a team, take notes from Coach Bud. Think about the little things. Heck, even team meals and seating arrangements apply to many offices. Engage your team and you might discover that you have more all-stars than you thought.
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 (email@example.com).
It’s 30 seconds of sheer torment for a good cause that went viral. I personally know at least 20 people who took the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. And I watched every one of their videos on FaceBook. Every one of them.
Neighbors, friends, family. Each video had its own personality, its own setting, its own rules. No professionally developed script, no fancy camera work, no sizzle reel. Just a bucket of ice, a cell phone camera, and a willing participant.
As of September 22nd, the ALS Foundation reported receiving $115 million for the cause as a result of the challenge, with literally millions of people participating.
The shocking part of this phenomenon is that so many people wanted to dump an ice bucket over their heads. Imagine harnessing the same kind of energy to rally employees around a good cause! Picking a cause that’s worthwhile and challenging employees to a fun, easy activity is a great (and inexpensive!) opportunity to bring the personality and culture of your business to life and support teamwork.
So why was the Ice Bucket Challenge a game so many wanted to be part of?
In a recent Forbes article about the science behind the success of the challenge, contributor Rick Smith identified three traits that make ideas go viral:
“…Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story. Understand how to make your ideas big, selfless and simple and you will be able to control growth.”
Big. In a culture of media and information overload, only the really big (ubiquitous) ideas gain any traction. Because there was a feel that everyone everywhere was watching someone dump an ice bucket over his head, a sense of shared experience grew up. Ask yourself how you can use your communications channels in creative ways to pump up enthusiasm and get everyone in on the game.
Selfless. Empathy stirs us to action when we see someone else doing something selfless. And there may be more selfish motives as well. Ever heard of “the audience effect?” That’s what neuro-scientists call that urge to donate or help out when someone else is looking. That’s why video and images of team members taking your challenge on social media, in your newsletter, on your message boards, are so important to getting everyone involved.
Simple. Asking people to do something that’s not too complicated increases participation. Simplicity also gives everyone the opportunity to make the activity their own and be creative if they want to be.
You may already have some great ideas for a cause-worthy employee challenge running around in your head. Here are some (maybe a little of corny) ideas to bounce off of:
A Throw Back Thursday contest where employees donate when they post their pics to the company intranet.
How about prizes for the biggest ‘80s hair or the widest bell-bottoms?
Everyone loves a most beautiful baby contest particularly when team members supply their own baby pictures.
You can probably think of a lot of ideas more relevant to your culture. Give us a buzz at Insight! We’d love to hear what you think and help you execute your big idea to boost employee engagement!
If you work in any sort of white-collar environment, you’ve probably heard bosses ponder how to engage their workers, in particular, the youngest of those cutely nicknamed “Millennials.” The more experienced members of the labor force are often the first to tell you that Millennials are spoiled, lazy, etc. (Full Disclosure: I’m a Millennial) So what are the effects of having an unmotivated generation of workers, who’s problem is it, and how do we fix it?
While researching for this post, I came across an article on Forbes.com by Kathy Caprino entitled “Quit Trying to ‘Engage’ Millenials.” To summarize (or TL:DR for our Millennial readers), Mrs. Caprino states that Millennials can actually be productive members of your team, but only if they’re “properly managed” (sounds like engagement to me). However, I found this quote from her piece shocking:
“Your Millennials chose to apply for a job with your company and probably want to succeed or, at minimum, keep their jobs. They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.”
This is an extremely poor characterization of not just Millennials, but anyone coming to work for a company. I will give Caprino a pass though, considering she goes on to describe ways “to attract, manage and retain [read: engage] Gen Y effectively.”
Millennials aren’t different from any other generation in that we all need to be engaged in what we do to be the most effective. Robert Hall, author of “The Disengagement Economy,” recently blogged about the engagement crisis we are facing. Below is a summary of his findings:
Gallup reports 70 percent of employees are not engaged in their work, 18 percent of which are actively disengaged. What’s even more disturbing is that this trend is following workers out of the office. Divorce rates have doubled over the past five decades. Divorced men are depressed at six times the rate of those who aren’t. Marriage is down 50 percent since 1970. Single-parent families have jumped 700% since the 1970s. And to bring it back to the youngsters, Millennials are rejecting marriage, political parties, religious affiliation, corporate organizations and trust in others at unprecedented levels. What’s the cost of all this disengagement, you ask? Researchers estimate $4.7 trillion.
Now think again about Caprino’s article, “Quit trying to engage Millennials.” I don’t know about you, but it infuriates me that people think this way. That leaders think it’s not their job to motivate. It’s not their job to sacrifice for lower earners. That, to quote Caprino again, “They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.” Pretty infuriating, right?
The onus of engagement is on the leaders of businesses. Someone shouldn’t be called a leader because they have a fancy title. They should be called a leader because they motivate, empathize and inspire their colleagues.
I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin last month with my family and we visited Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. My husband is a Wisconsin native and a recovering Packers fan. My father-in-law attended the legendary Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship between Green Bay and Dallas. He credits a flask of brandy in his coat pocket with keeping him alive that day.
Lambeau Field is a beautiful facility with a gift shop as large as an elementary school. Right out front is a statue of Vince Lombardi, the former coach. I’m very familiar with Vince, not because I’m a Packers fan, but because I’ve used his quotes on teamwork and leadership countless times over my career.
To win five NFL champions, you need great talent, strong fundamentals, and more than your share of good luck, but there are two elements that are required. You can’t win without teamwork and leadership.
Businesses are looking for the formula that helps their managers become better leaders and employees more engaged. Leadership is not about one thing, it’s about everything: creating a specific vision, setting measurable goals, listening and asking for input, inspiring your team to work together and succeed, recognizing and celebrating success. If there was a simple, one-time solution, everyone would use it. Leadership is an ongoing process that requires daily attention.
Although Vince Lombardi passed more than 40 years ago, his perspective on leadership still resonates. Take a look at a few of his quotes and let them inspire you to be a more effective leader.
“Individual commitment to a team effort is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work. “
“Leaders aren’t born; they are made, just like anything else through hard work.”
“Leadership is based on a spiritual quality—the power to inspire.”
“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can attain excellence.”
“The key to success is heart power. Capture the hearts of people you are leading, connect their hearts to your goals and nothing will be impossible for you.”
How have you been a leader in the past? Did leadership advice from greats like Vince Lombardi help you? Share your story with me! Contact Maureen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently participated in a panel discussion for business owners and entrepreneurs hosted by the University of Georgia’s Entrepreneurship Program. Our businesses varied, from retail and professional services to banking and healthcare. No two businesses were alike.
Here’s the part that interested me the most: When asked to share their most challenging business issue, it wasn’t business growth, technology costs or the pace of change that drove the conversation. It was people. Nearly every business owner identified people issues as their number one challenge.
They talked about the lack of buy-in for programs and systems. They talked about hiring the right people for the job, and then losing them once they were fully trained. They talked about how difficult it is to motivate front line employees.
Employee engagement is vital whether you run billion dollar business or a mom and pop shop. Your employees are the face of your business to customers. To win their hearts and minds is no small achievement, but it can be done without throwing money at the problem.
A recent Gallup Survey, The State of the American Workplace 2013, states that 70% of American workers are “actively disengaged” and not working to their full potential. Those with the lowest engagement in any occupation are service employees who are on the front line serving customers.
What can we all do to build engagement? Few of us can offer the rich perks offered by Google (like free food, haircuts and fitness training), but there are lots of ways to build pride and engagement. Here are just a few low cost, but effective opportunities:
Hire the right managers. You can talk about how much you love your employees and what a great culture you’re building but your managers must deliver that every day. If they don’t walk the talk, credibility is lost. My favorite former boss used to say great leaders have a balance of skills and style and both are equally important. Don’t hire an individual who is technically superior but can’t motivate and connect with their team. That type of person will drive off your best people.
Say thank you. It doesn’t cost anything to say thank you. Why don’t business leaders say it more often? Recently a business owner told me he often sent thank you notes to clients, but it hadn’t occurred to him to send them to his team. Try it. It works.
Tap into the power of philanthropy. People feel good about helping others. Find a charity that is a good fit with your business and your people will take it from there. Their creativity will amaze you. There are 1.3 million charities in America, and every community has a public school that needs volunteers. Better yet, ask your people what they would like to support. Set up a volunteer work day or fundraiser and see what a meaningful impact it has on your people.
Ask for feedback. Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, built his brand on four little words, “How am I doing?” Be sure you have a feedback channel for bottom-to-top, instead of top-to-bottom communication. Whether it’s as simple as regularly scheduled staff meetings or a direct email box for ideas and questions, set up a way for employees to interact with management. Then take action. There’s nothing more discouraging than to share your ideas and issues and nothing changes.
Promote healthy lifestyles. Rising healthcare costs are a critical issue for all of us. You can show employees you care by supporting wellness activities. Start with healthier snacks in the break rooms and vending machines. Form an employee Wellness Committee. Celebrate with those who meet their wellness goals and encourage everyone to get healthier.