World Book Day 2018: Lessons from the world of storytelling to engage your employees

Thursday 1st March 2018 is World Book Day, a global event encouraging people of all ages to get stuck into a good book. We’ve put together our own recommended reading list for you to choose from, featuring some of our favourite reads.

We know that storytelling can be a great tool to positively impact employee engagement; you can find out how we helped British Gas get their story right for employees here. But there’s also lots we can learn from the art of storytelling to successfully impact employee engagement.  Below we took at closer look at some of the key components of effective storytelling, and explored how these ideas and rules could be applied to help improve employee engagement in your organisation.

  1. Get planning

All authors are different when it comes to planning. Some plan meticulously, using spreadsheets and matrices to carefully plot every detail of what lies ahead. Others will scrawl on office walls or the backs of envelopes whenever inspiration hits.

Whichever way you do it, successful employee engagement also requires planning and strategy to get it right; we know that organisations which have a strategy in place outperform those that don’t. In our recent Spotlight on the Employee Engagement Profession research, we found that 45% of organisations didn’t have an employee engagement strategy or plan in place. Like a good story, successful engagement needs a plan!

Stories take us on a journey, and the same can be said for engagement. The first step is planning – finding your organisation’s definition of engagement and devising a tailored strategy. Then comes the employee engagement activity, involving everyone in the organisation and gathering data and insight. Following this, results are analysed, evaluated, and acted upon.

  1. Show, don’t tell

One of the key lessons creative writers are taught is to show, not tell. This means that a writer shows a reader what’s happening – through actions, behaviours, emotions, settings, dialogue and more – instead of simply stating what’s going on (i.e. ‘telling’).

Integrity is one of the five enablers of employee engagement. An organisation that has integrity doesn’t have a ‘say-do’ gap; instead, values are reflected in day-to-day behaviours. This enabler is about showing employees that you believe what you say, instead of making promises you can’t or won’t keep. Telling employees that things will change won’t impact their engagement – leaders need to show that they’re willing to embrace the changes they’ve set out. So, like a creative writer, we need to make sure we show, not tell.

  1. Write about what you know

Writers often draw upon their own experiences in their work (both good and bad), to create stories that keep us reading. Thinking about our own experiences with engagement, we can begin to understand what’s engaged us in the past (and what hasn’t). Reflecting on our own experiences is a great place to start and something we actively encourage at People Lab. We use our best experiences activity to get people sharing stories about what has engaged them. These stories are a great way for individuals and teams to understand what engages them and to use this insight to develop action plans. You can download this activity here, to get started with your team today!

It might be useful to think back to a leader or manager who’s inspired you at some point in your working life. What made their leadership style so amazing, and what steps do you think they took to achieve this? What can you learn from the positive actions (or mistakes) that you’ve experienced first-hand – and how can you bring these learnings into your workplace?

  1. Create a compelling narrative

One job of an author is to create a world that resonates with a reader; one that they feel at home in and will want to revisit. The same can be said for leaders of organisations. They need to create compelling stories, that employees will want to engage with and be a part of.

This is known as Strategic Narrative, another enabler of employee engagement. Successful organisations have visible, empowering leaders that know where the organisation is going and why, and can share this story in a compelling way. This provides a sense of purpose for employees at every level, because they understand the role they’re playing in helping the organisation to succeed. We’ve got a free download to help you with this too!

  1. Know your audience

It’s important for writers to know who they’re writing for. It forms a vital part of a writer’s research and guides the stylistic choices they might make along the way.

Within an organisation it’s integral that we know our ‘audience’ (i.e. our fellow employees) to successfully impact engagement. A one size fits all approach to engagement won’t work. Whilst there are what we call the universal themes of engagement (such as autonomy, mastery and purpose), there are always differences not only from company to company, but even from team to team. We can’t make assumptions about what will engage our audience, we have to find out from them what is important to them, and what matters for them to be engaged.

Knowing your audience well provides essential insight for planning future engagement activities and processes. In understanding the needs and concerns of employees (and what they respond well to), we can start to make changes that stick – and begin to anticipate problems before they occur.

We hope you enjoyed these five lessons from the world of storytelling. While it’s not an exhaustive list (we’re sure there are many other lessons to be learned!), we hope you’ll enjoy applying some of these ideas in your organisation and using the best experience activity with your team.

If you’ve got any questions or queries, please do contact us – or continue the conversation via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section below.

Liked this article? Why not try…

World Book Day 2018: Three simple ways to get involved at work

Why stories aren’t just for kids

How British Gas got their story right for employees

The five enablers of employee engagement

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