It's why massively successful brands like Starbucks share stories about the farming communities from which they source their coffee.
It's why Airbnb tells users' stories--about their home, about their country, about their experiences--instead of simply focusing on the product they offer.
And it's why at Zen Media, we've become leaders in helping brands of all sizes, around the world, leverage digital communications, experiential marketing, and social platforms like Instagram and Facebook to share their own stories and deliver meaningful CX (customer experience).
But storytelling has as much to do with EX (employee experience) as it does with CX. Just as storytelling connects a brand with its customers, so too does it connect a brand with its employees, inspiring not only greater loyalty and investment, but also fueling performance and innovation
Storytelling is the primary way human beings make sense of common challenges, find a sense of shared meaning and purpose in the face of these challenges, and work together toward novel solutions.
You might say that storytelling is the fundamental "currency of communication" found in cultures across time and around the world, including one found in the far reaches of the Arctic that can teach organizational leaders a lot about how to elevate their employee experience.
An incredible example of cultural storytelling: Inuit parenting
For the Inuit people, who live in the Arctic Circle, storytelling is an inherent element of the way they raise their children to be resilient, strong, and emotionally intelligent.
This practice was documented extensively in the 1960s by Jean Briggs, a 34-year old anthropologist who persuaded an Inuit family to let her live with them for more than a year.
While living with this tribe, Briggs noticed that storytelling played an incredibly strong role in the way children were parented. Stories were used to help discipline children--for example, to keep children from going into the frigid ocean, parents would tell them that a giant sea monster lived in the ocean with a special pouch on its back just for little kids.
Stories were also used to help them develop healthy, pro-social behaviors and promote a sense of connection, both between parents and children and between children and their tribe at large.
It's this kind of connection-building that can be so helpful for leaders who are working to create a healthier and happier workplace and more engaged employees. And far from being just "feel good" stuff, more engaged employees means measurable gains in performance, productivity, and profit.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review article that reported the author's analysis of 250 companies found that those that invest in EX are four times as profitable. These companies beat out by significant margins the S&P 500, the NASDAQ, Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, and Glassdoor's Best Places to Work, as well as other companies the author analyzed.
Using storytelling in the workplace
That said, The first "story" we probably think of when we think of stories in the workplace is the story of your brand: why it exists, what its mission is, and how everyone who works for the brand fits into that mission.
That's an important element of using storytelling to help your employees feel connected to each other and to the brand itself--but that's far from the only way.
1.For employee recognition
Certificates and gift cards can be a great way to reward an employee for a job well done, but they don't do a whole lot to encourage a sense of belonging or cohesion.
To make that gift card mean a whole lot more, consider presenting it in front of your employee's teammates and sharing a story of how that employee goes above and beyond in their daily work. If public attention like that makes your employee uncomfortable, you could also share a story via email, so he or she doesn't feel quite so much like they're beneath a spotlight.
2.To encourage a sense of purpose
Lots of companies have a cause or charity that they support through volunteerism or fundraising. Help your employees feel a stronger sense of purpose by posting stories of how that charity is helping your community or people who've been affected by that charity's services. You can also share stories of your own employees who are donating their time or effort to the cause.
3.As an ongoing team-building exercise
Teams function much better when the teammates know each other and feel invested in each other's progress.
One way to help this along is by using storytelling as a kind of ice-breaker. In your next team meeting, set aside some time to have each team member share a specific story guided by a prompt--for example, "What's one of your favorite childhood memories?" or "What's one of the most exciting things you've done so far?" The prompts don't need to be directly related to work. In fact, the exercise will likely work more effectively if they're not, since the goal is to get employees to relate to each other on a personal level.
Being drawn to stories is an essential part of being human, whether you're a child growing up in the Arctic Circle, or a 30-something manager at a marketing firm. By embracing the power of stories in your own workplace, you can translate meaningful CX to meaningful EX, improving your culture, strengthening your brand, and attracting and retaining your employees.