Assertions are often not credible, but stories almost always are – says Indranil Chakraborty from Storyworks. Claiming to an audience that you have certain skills or qualities might not convince them completely; but if you back it up with stories wherein the audience can itself deduce your said skill or qualities, the result is likely to be far more fruitful. Story-telling in businesses can be harnessed to increase interaction, engagement and make work more inspiring, and above all ensuring that the message sticks.
Why do stories matter in business?
There is an urgent need to break the myth that stories are meant for children only. If the story you hear is credible, relatable and real, not only are you likely to believe it, but also remember it for a long time. Science backs this claim – the human brain is wired to remember stories because they help the brain visualize. For example, not many of us can solve the exact equation for Pythagoras Theorem, although all of us have studied it in school. But we remember that it pertains to a triangle, and also its sides. The reason is that the theorem was just that – a theorem, text, logic – but not a story. Stories allow the brain to instantly conjure up an image and describe things, not in words, but visuals and feelings. Furthermore, stories are easier to share and easier to remember. The shareability factor is greater in stories – and that is the reason Facebook exists, really.
Now imagine you telling the ‘story’ of your company, your brand or your employer – a story that not only has an engaged audience but a story that is remembered for a long time and is shared in the network of your audience. That is the power of story-telling and communication that businesses can harness to build a robust employer brand. For instance, the global recall rate for all the vision, mission and targets discussed at the annual company meeting is around 5%. This is due to the fact that such meetings involve slides, and paper presentations and lectures. But if you can convert the same content into a story, it is much more likely to stick around. Similarly, when employees leave an organization, you cannot expect them to compress years of tacit knowledge into a few weeks or months of ‘hand-over’. The transfer of information might take place, but wisdom will not. Again, the medium of story-telling can be used to elicit an efficient, able and fool-proof transition.
Organization Values, which are often displayed on shiny posters and glossy plaques in offices, have no meaning if the employees do not imbibe their essence. This is because values are even more abstract than say strategy or vision. How do you really expect an individual to understand the essence of something as complex as transparency or agility? To make matters worse, companies define these values in predetermined terminology and leave no scope for realization of the said values. Employers can use stories to truly embed these values by using stories, and forming a long process of story-telling, collecting, selecting and sharing within. In the same line of thought, leadership development can be facilitated via stories, and leaders made more engaged, inspiring, real and credible. Lastly, if you can communicate your culture, which is a complex and varied phenomenon, to the external world, you will create a credible and authentic perception of what your employer brand is, and what your core values and beliefs are.
What makes a great story? Is everything that is claimed to be a story, a story?
The sequential narration of facts doesn’t make a story. Your history, timeline, milestone, or ‘About Us’ section is not your story. Similarly, baseless or blatant assertions do not form the foundation of a good story. So what makes a good story? It is the interplay of science and art. Never tell a story unprepared – have a time marker, a location marker, and a character marker. In other words, have a time frame, have a location setting and have characters, with names and identities. Why are these things important? Imagine your favorite book, and then change the name of the protagonist, or some other seemingly trivial detail, which practically makes no difference to the story, but is important nonetheless. Doesn’t seem right, does it? Include conversations and dialogues in your story, construct a plot, leave room for surprises and most importantly, have a business point to your story.
A good story will help the listener see what happened and how it happened and will be elaborate enough to evoke a visual response. Business case studies do not qualify as stories – simply because they do not help you visualize. Sure, they describe a situation, in a certain setting, with certain end-results, but the plot, the narrative is missing. Next, don’t mistake the length of a story to be a parameter for its quality. Powerful stories don’t need to be long, and perhaps a few seconds are enough to convey the intended message. Finally, whom should you make the hero of your story? The company? The Brand? You? The trick is to understand that the story is not about the hero – but the hero’s journey. It’s the anecdotes, the examples, the recounts, the experiences and the values behind all these that make a story.
Building Employer Brand through stories
The foundation of any powerful story lies in your values, beliefs, and behaviors. Build your brand and value not by making claims, or brochures or PowerPoint presentations about what you believe in, but by demonstrating through the stories that your employees tell, collect and share. Story-listening can be helpful here, where people get to tell their own stories – and inspire others to do the same, for any good story has to be thoughtful and built layer by layer. Just to get you started, here are three steps you can follow:
1. Tell a story to get a story: Tell a story, so that you allow for others to share their stories.
2. Ask the right question: Invert the conventional knowledge, and start with ‘when’ and ‘where’ (time and location markers), so that you get facts and not opinions.
3. Be prepared to evoke emotions: Transport people back in time when they experienced emotions and feelings when they saw something happening.
By using the right story, question, and emotion, you can create the most powerful stories together. Last of all, do not be intimidated by the idea of story-telling. Humans are innate storytellers, and you don’t need to learn the skill. You can train to improve the skill, by understanding visual tools, emotion etc. but be assured, there isn’t a human being on this planet who isn’t born a story-teller.
Exercise: The next time you are in a speaking conference and people are busy on their phones, just say “Seven years ago...” and stop. You will notice people pausing and looking up to you – because people are fundamentally wired to listen to a story.
The Story Test: www.thestorytest.com
The Ultimate Guide to Running Anecdote Circles: email the speaker to get a copy.
(‘Building your Employer Brand’ by Indranil Chakraborty, Storyworks, was held at the Talent Acquisition Leadership League Conference on 9th June 2017. You can also read about Indranil's thoughts on the same.)