5 ways to make your corporate story resonate with employees

Here’s how to craft more poignant, persuasive and memorable messaging that helps staffers find deeper meaning in their work.

5 ways to tell better stories to employees

Would you be willing to choose a job you find meaningful over a job that pays more?

Well, nine out of 10 employees say they would. That jarring statistic reveals employees want more than just mindlessly punching the clock and collecting a paycheck. Workers want more substance, and it’s up to employers to connect the dots between daily tasks and your company’s larger mission.

The best way to do this is to consistently tell compelling stories that help employees understand the history, mission, culture and vision that make your company unique—and why they should be proud to work there.

Follow these five tips to craft a corporate story that resonates with employees:

1. Build a solid foundation.

All stories need a beginning, middle and end—and corporate stories are no different. This framework has been an effective way to weave tales since stories were invented.

Author Kenn Adams developed a structure called the “Story Spine,” which is used by many successful writers, including those who write the beloved Pixar movies.

The structure goes like this:

  • Once upon a time…
    • World and characters are introduced
  • Every day…
    • Routine is established
  • But one day
    • Main character breaks the routine
  • Because of that…
    • Consequences for breaking routine
  • Until finally…
    • Main character embarks upon success or failure
  • And ever since then…
    • Main character succeeds or fails; new routine is established

Let’s review how this can work for a corporate story:

  • Once upon a time… three college students started a business roasting and selling coffee beans.
  • Every day… the shop sold the coffee beans but never brewed the coffee.
  • But one day… one employee traveled to Italy and became captivated by the culture surrounding local coffee bars.
  • Because of that… he brought the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States.
  • Until finally… he bought the coffee shop and began marketing it.
  • And ever since then… the coffee shop expanded into a global franchise and quickly became a household name.

This story, of course, tells the history of Starbucks.

The story spine helps you select key points to form your story. Once you outline the spine, you can start filling in all the muscles and tendons—the details that hold your story together.

2. Use vivid characters to bring your story to life.

Now that you have a basic structure in place, ask yourself, “Who is experiencing these events?” It’s not enough to talk about “the company.” There should be someone the audience can relate to. A character gives the story life—and sometimes a new perspective.

An obvious character choice for your story is the organization’s founder. If he or she is still around, ask questions that perhaps no one has considered:

  • Who is he or she?
  • What was he/she like before starting your company?
  • What was the vision or idea that sparked everything?
  • How did he/she put it into action?
  • How did he/she fail, or what conflicts did he/she face?
  • How did he/she prevail?
  • What is his/her vision for the future?

However, let’s not forget some of the most important characters—the employees. Every employee has a unique story, so start talking to people. Who are they? What drives them? Why are they proud to work here?

These personal stories can forge emotional connections and help employees see that they are part of something great.

3. Include a bit of drama.

Once you have your story spine and have selected your characters, it’s time to add a bit of conflict.

As you’re crafting your corporate story, it may seem natural to focus on positive aspects only—the company’s founding, steady progress and the path to future success. However, conflict makes the story more compelling.

If you’re not convinced, let’s remove the drama from a recognizable story.

Dorothy’s house arrives in Oz, and there’s no wicked witch to land on. Dorothy follows the Yellow Brick Road, finds the Wizard and goes home. She never learns any valuable lessons about perseverance or friendship.

Would you watch that?

Every business has conflict or uncertainty. Whether it’s struggling through a recession, getting negative publicity or dealing with a lawsuit, low points can offer an intriguing wake-up call that adds drama to your story. Sharing candidly about your efforts to overcome conflict also makes your storytelling more genuine, engaging and credible.

4. Make the story relatable.

One crucial element makes the difference between a compelling story and one that falls flat: emotion.

Stories with emotion resonate across cultures, geography and time. That’s why we still have empathy for Cinderella, Odysseus and Juliet centuries after these stories were created.

If you can make employees feel something, your corporate story will be more effective. Some of the most successful stories occur when leaders ditch the data and talk about their experiences.

Take, for instance, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya.

Ulukaya comes from a long line of nomadic farmers and shepherds in eastern Turkey. He was even born in the mountains there. However, Ulukaya wanted to take a different path, so he enrolled in a business course in the U.S.—even though his English was very limited.

When his father came for a visit, Ulukaya wanted to have some comfort foods available for him, so he started making his own cheese. The idea took off, and Ulukaya started a business employing just five workers. In 2005, he could afford a larger factory and started making yogurt.

Today, Ulukaya is a billionaire, philanthropist and revered humanitarian.

Once you hear his story, suddenly this corporate billionaire seems much more relatable. He was a farmer with a vision and the courage to pursue it. His corporate story now inspires more than 2,000 people to work for Chobani.

5. Simplify your message.

Your company may have plenty of history, which makes it tempting to include every detail. However, the more information you include, the less employees will remember. Instead, your entire story should focus on one single message—the one thing you want employees to take away. Remove everything in your story that does not support that message.

This is exactly how film editing works. For example, Peter Jackson had to condense more than 1,000 pages’ worth of “The Lord of the Rings” into three feature-length films.

Here’s the basic plot: An evil lord forges a magic ring that can enslave the world. The ring is lost. Over time, it makes its way to a hobbit named Frodo. Frodo must undertake a dangerous journey to Mount Doom to destroy the ring and save the world.

When filming was finished, there was an overwhelming amount of footage. Even though there were many great scenes, Jackson had to make some difficult decisions. If the scene didn’t advance the ring to Mount Doom, it had to go.

So, when crafting your corporate story, think like Peter Jackson. Consider the one thing you want employees to think or feel, and remove everything that doesn’t accomplish that.

All these tips can help you craft a great story. However, there is one crucial element missing from this list: you.

You are an employee, too. You know your company and what drives you to do your best work. Trust your instincts, and use these tips to weave a corporate story that resonates with employees and makes them proud to be part of something great.

Alison Davis is CEO of Davis & Company.

COMMENT

One Response to “5 ways to make your corporate story resonate with employees”

    Jean Reid says:

    Years ago while working for the ABC affiliate in Nashville, I made a speech to a large group of college students majoring in journalism and communications. I walked on stage with a wheel barrel full of large stuffed animals and lined them up across the stage. My topic was “What is it like to work in a television station.”

    I went down the stage picking up each stuffed animal and comically described each character and the role they played at the station – from the receptionist to the General Manager. The students roared and the host association said they had never had such a fun and insightful presentation.

    Today, I am sure those students never look at receptionist without thinking of a large, long necked, goofy giraffe (who sees all and knows all).

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