Using the ‘hero’s journey’ arc to tell employees’ stories

From ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after,’ a captivating tale of challenges and successes will celebrate, engage and inspire your workers as they slay their metaphorical dragons.

How many of your childhood bedtime stories started, “Once upon a time”?

Probably more than you can recall.

Whatever the unfolding plot was, you knew it would contain a beginning, a middle and an end, with ups and downs along the way.

Any mild peril that the story’s hero or heroine faced was always resolved; their journey through the treacherous jungle or to the top of the villain’s castle to defeat the enemy was done without a hair out of place. These tales from faraway lands were—unbeknown to your younger self—structured perfectly. The format always worked, and it never strayed off course.

The narrative was on point; it told you what the hero was doing, why they were doing it, where they had come from and where they were going. All neat and tidy.

Storytelling’s enduring power

Fast-forward a few years (OK, maybe 20 or 30) and that kind of narrative is still what makes us buy into something in the workplace. Its strategic positioning means it encourages alignment, unity and inspiration. Being part of an organization that places strong emphasis on compelling and authentic storytelling is a career highlight, both for you—the internal communicator—and the employees. The comfort of a favorite bedtime story has become a grownup reality, with just a bit more pocket money.

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For employees, a big difference between being told a great story and being part of one is that they can now be that hero they dreamed about as a child. They get to become Luke Skywalker.

As adults in fully functioning organizations, employees are still treading the well-worn hero’s journey path that Luke took all the way from Tatooine to Endor. He left home, faced a series of tests and made it out the other side—stronger, more knowledgeable and better equipped for the next challenge.

The hero’s journey story structure

In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which has sold well over a million copies, mythologist Joseph Campbell described the hero’s journey as a monomyth, a pattern found in almost every narrative in the world. Campbell’s monomyth structure contains many complex stages, which can be tricky to follow. Fortunately, in 1992 the pattern was reduced to 12 simpler stages by Christopher Vogler in “The Writer’s Journey.” This made the structure much more accessible and ideal for those searching for a tried and tested narrative pattern to follow.

From those tentative first steps to the ultimate reward, and remembering the challenges, successes and supporters along the way, storytellers omit no pertinent details. Having such a framework to follow is like consulting a map; it makes the journey a lot easier to navigate.

Sharing personal stories

That framework—like any story—is always open to development and change, which is also true of any organization and the people that work within it.

So, how do your people tell their stories like a hero-in-waiting? You want to promote and share news of colleagues who have worked through the beginning, middle and end of their journeys; they’re positive, uplifting and inspiring to those facing their own journey. For those of us within organizations that have positive narratives firmly in place, the promotion of these stories reaffirms not only the organization’s directional focus, but also the knowledge that it takes its people seriously. Who doesn’t like knowing they work in an organization that has their back?

Sharing personal stories—be they based on career progression, personal development or overcoming arduous challenges—can be a powerful and emotive way to connect people with purpose. Such stories aren’t always easy to tell. What do you include? How do you make sure the important parts are covered? What’s the format? What questions should be answered?

When gathering your employees’ adventures and experiences, consider asking the following questions as a way to structure those stories and share them across your organization:

  1. What made you take the leap and start this journey?
  2. What, if any, were your initial expectations?
  3. What were you hoping to come away with when you started?
  4. What challenges or setbacks did you face along the way?
  5. Who supported you while you were on this journey?
  6. How did they help or inspire you?
  7. As you progressed, did any part of your journey change? How?
  8. What, if any, were your misgivings?
  9. Were there parts of your journey that you would have changed? Which ones?
  10. How were your expectations met?
  11. Did you achieve what you wanted to? How?
  12. What advice would you give to colleagues considering their own personal journey?

As was noted at the beginning, we love to hear “good news” stories. It’s important to cut through the noise with something that will put smiles on faces and spark inspiration.

Passing the baton

Those who have been on their own hero’s journey set out into the unknown and, whether every part of it was or wasn’t positive, something has been learned and assimilated for the next part of the story and to help those yet to start their own.

No matter what’s happening daily in your organization, “good news” stories are welcome. Whether it’s a promotion, a great piece of project work or fundraising for a good cause, they’re important to share organization-wide, because they inspire others. Even if they inspire just one person, that’s a success.

With the assistance of our story-capturing framework, we hope that you’ll be able to paint a captivating picture for employees across your organization, setting the stage clearly and honestly, hailing and celebrating your people as conquering heroes at The End.

A version of this post first appeared on Alive With Ideas.

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