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The best internal communications strategy? Storytelling

The best internal communications strategy? Storytelling
Simon Jones

Simon Jones

Simon is a content marketing professional with over a decade of experience in planning, creating and editing content.
Simon Jones

Does your internal communications strategy incorporate storytelling as a tool?

Prose that leads people to action can appear in the most unexpected places. A rare moment of poignancy from a tormented author. A whimsical sonnet scribed by a long-dead anonymous poet. Even a bare inner-city building can become a blank canvas for the literary-inclined – the legality of graffiti notwithstanding.

Many of us hold a narrow view on where we should find moving phrases and flashes of verbal brilliance – in novels and memoirs, poetry and song. But what those people often forget is that we live in a hyper-digital world. Our pencil gave way to the keyboard years ago.

Why, then, can’t we tell stories without pen and paper – why should it be reserved for fiction? Let’s go even further – beyond the explosion of online journalism, blogs, editorials and interactive novels. Why can’t we bring storytelling into the workplace?

No one has ownership of business storytelling. And content marketing isn’t the only outlet to drive people to action. If you have a story to tell and you know how to tell it, why shouldn’t you drive that message home through your internal communications?

After all, if a story about hobbits can lead universities the world over to create Lord of the Rings-specific courses, think what your business could achieve once you embrace storytelling.

Good communication is a stairway to heaven

Internal communications can drive engagement

The biggest corporate buzzword in recent years has been ‘engagement’. The C-suite wants every employee to be fully engaged while on the clock. Supervisors want to engage their teams on a personal level. But when you look at the stats in Australia, it doesn’t make for happy reading. Gallup reports the vast majority of Aussies aren’t engaged at work, with 60% “not engaged” and a further 16% “actively disengaged”.

How is that possible? Wasn’t technology supposed to make us more connected? Why did we replace cubicles with the open-plan office if not to drive employee engagement? Could we be looking at the issue of engagement from the wrong angle?

Speaking to Skyword, Suzanne Peck, president of the Institute of Internal Communications (IOIC), says we should focus on generating engagement at the deepest possible levels – and storytelling is a simple activity that everyone responds to.

“Great stories inspire people and improve organizational performance, so storytelling will just keep growing in value in internal communications,” she says.

“Stories motivate people, helping them to understand purpose and commit to bigger concepts such as organizational change and values. They make a connection between the employee, the company and the leadership at a far more personal level.”

Office classroom internal communications

From corporate to government

Businesses in the private sector have a leg-up when it comes to driving greater employee engagement. They typically don’t have the strictures and bureaucracy inherent to government enterprises. And it’s a double-edged sword for workers in the public sector. On the one hand, their rigid company policies and procedures are designed to create a clear funnel of operations from start to finish. But because of their rigidity, any unexpected problem can spell disaster, blowing out projects because workers are not afforded the flexibility of tackling the issue from a different perspective.

But it’s not as if the government is burying its head in the sand. It’s a known issue, and one the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) attempted to address with its paper on measuring employee engagement. It’s a sound framework that seems to understand the ongoing issues with staff disengagement, but does it go far enough? There’s almost a decade-long disconnect when comparing engagement policies from private-sector companies to the paper above – it’s as if the APSC published the paper and left it as a set-and-forget tactic, not to be addressed or updated until the next major overhaul.

Engagement through continued learning

Thankfully, a number of government entities have taken things a step further by embracing learning initiatives as their engagement solution.

Cornerstone is a popular solution, and it’s heartening to see them recognise that “the contemporary learner is different”. Employees do want to close their skills gaps, and they do want to upskill themselves – for the betterment of both themselves and their workplace. But what they don’t want is to be stuck in a classroom with dense materials. Nor do they want to watch hours-long videos or scroll through hundreds of PowerPoint slides with little purpose.

To truly engage with employees in a learning setting, managers need to understand how they want to learn. They also need to support them at all times, and provide them with incentives such as short-term goals and gamified coursework.

bored reader

Sculpt your corporate story

Before you can bring storytelling into your internal communications, you need to define your corporate story. A mission statement is a good start, but it should go further – ultimately feeding into the culture of the company.

The next step is to speak to your team. It doesn’t matter what their roles are – marketing manager, digital lead, copywriter or HR director. The most important part of engaging through communications is to communicate. By speaking to your co-workers, you’ll allow them to tell their own stories, which you can leverage at a later date.

Good storytelling relies on solid content creation. If you want to engage your workforce and deliver high-quality communications that will drive them to action, contact us to find out how we can help.