This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
Native Americans have a tradition of dream catchers. ¬†These web-like structures are created to protect dreamers from bad dreams. ¬†When hung in the light, dream catchers only let the good dreams through.
Everyday, in every organization, compelling human stories are being ‘written’. Important moments that we can learn from.¬†And, though much has been said about the power of storytelling to involve and motivate, to develop and learn, to build energy and momentum, most employee communications are about as far from storytelling as you can get.
Why is that?
We don’t recognize a good story when we hear or see one. In my experience the best organizations think about proof points when they are building their plans. They ask one simple question: How will we know when we’ve reached our objective? What will success look like?¬†Despite all the work that goes into building strategic plans, articulating values and vision statements, the true test comes when they are concrete enough that we can recognize a story that shows how they play out in the day-to-day life of the organization.
We don’t know where to begin to look to find a good story. Every organization has moments that are critical to the business – trade shows, proposal submissions, shareholder meetings, product launches. And, they are ¬†generally pretty predictable. In my experience the best organizations plan their storytelling annually. What are the key moments in our planning horizon? How can we share these moments with employees? What kinds of stories will have the most meaning and impact? How can we most easily gather, tell and share them?
We don’t have the resources – time or budget – to gather and tell stories. This is the fun part. The opportunities are endless. Employee networks are everywhere creating opportunities for roving reporters. Tools and channels grow daily. A little imagination and ingenuity goes a long way.
A story. One of the highlights of my career happened when I was the Director, Internal Communications for Bombardier Aerospace [for another]. ¬†Le Bourget is the largest aerospace show in the world and critical to Bombardier’s business. It’s a time to close deals – ¬†– more deals are signed there than at any other time of the year,¬†meet current and potential customers, and see what the competition is up to. ¬†Despite that few employees knew about the show. ¬†Those that did saw it as an executive boondoggle. Paris, foie gras and champagne.
We were introducing a new brand at the show – Ideas that fly – and decided very early on that we wanted to find a way to bring employees to Le Bourget and Le Bourget to employees. ¬†One of the most important and exciting things that we did was to introduce a new employee newsletter – BFlash. ¬†Over the first 4 days of the show, managers and administrative staff in Montreal, Toronto and Wichita came in each morning and found a pdf version in their inbox. ¬†Belfast in the afternoon. Given the limited access for plant employees we couldn’tt reach them directly or in real time, but managers posted the newsletter on bulletin boards and spoke about highlights from the show at the shop floor meetings that week.
It was important for us to humanize the story of the show without being able to interview customers. So, we made sure that the template was simple and colourful and thanks to the professional photographer that was there for marketing we had wonderful images of employees at the show. Each edition updated employees on the business facts – our sales and how the competition was doing in comparison but also told the story of one employee at the show each day [My Paris] and one employee’s experience of the show over the 4 days [Shasta's Paris - this ended up being a highlight], presented short interviews with executives from different functions about why they attend the show and what it means for their part of the business, facts about the show and our presence there, etc. ¬† We created buzz across the system. ¬†And a new understanding and appreciation for the role of Le Bourget to the business. ¬†The approach was such a hit that we continued to use this model for other key moments – new aircraft introductions, first flights, other air shows.
We’d built our first story catcher.
How often do your leaders tell stories? What forums do you have for sharing stories across the organization? Isn’t it time to build story catching and sharing into your communication strategies?