The Case for Storytelling at the Workplace
“A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.” – Harvard Business Review
Storytelling is a powerful but underutilized tool in leadership. A study of 18,000 professionals across 150 countries has revealed that good communication, with a strong emphasis on storytelling, is a “foundational skill” for CEOs and leaders in the next decade.
A compelling story can:
- Inspire and win over an audience
- Make an initiative succeed, instead of breaking it
- Change an audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors
- Motivate voluntary cooperation
- Foster trust and loyalty
- Create deeper connections
- Build group identity
Further, when leaders tell stories at work, they are more likely to:
- Gain credibility for themselves and their ideas
- Be trusted by their audience
- Cultivate a sense of ‘transcendent’ purpose among their employees
- Create a strong sense of moral motivation
- Align teams and persuade others to join their cause
- Inspire new recruits, customers, and stakeholders
Studies also suggest that storytelling can be a driving factor for employee performance — moving audience members to “think, feel, and respond the same way as a character in the story” they hear. It is one of the primary tools of human interaction, making it possible for others to engage with our experiences as their own.
Sources: Harvard Business Review, National Library of Medicine, Kilaru et al, Holand, Forbes 2022, McKinsey & Co. 2021 Study, and Accenture
Storytelling makes business sense:
A whopping 66 percent of US employees are not engaged at work. Low engagement costs the global economy $7.8 trillion every year. And yet, studies have shown that there’s a simple — albeit often overlooked — tool to combat this: storytelling. Great storytelling “connects employees to their work,” thereby positively influencing how they engage with work.
Of the employees who report the highest morale at work, 94.4 percent report that their managers recognize them by telling stories of the work they’ve done.
Most employees are “checked out” of work. The consequence is not only lower productivity at work — it is a lower quality of life. A Harvard Business Review study has shown that a leader can turn this situation around by helping their people establish and maintain a lively sense of connection to their work via storytelling.
People’s feelings about work are only partly about their work. They are also (if not more so) about how they frame their work. Once their frame changes, so does their feeling. And research shows that nothing helps change a frame faster than a story.
40 percent of information is forgotten by the next day. 90 percent of it is forgotten after a week. But when information is communicated through stories, its recall value goes up by upto 22 times.
People retain only 5-10 percent of information conveyed to them via statistics and 65-70 percent of information shared via a story.
Sources: Gallup, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, London School of Business, and Stanford University
Have a Clear Objective
Your objective could be explicit or implicit, like selling your strategy, building your brand, motivating people, or building a culture.
Craft a Clear & Coherent Narrative
Use the right facts in the right sequence so that your audience can follow the arc of your story easily.
End Your Story on a High Note
Craft a message of hope, opportunity, and redemption, even from stories about challenges or suffering.
Relate Your Story as a Conversation Among Friends
Make the story flow organically. Speak as though you and your audience are “in this game together.”
Rouse the Sleeping Hero in Your Listeners
Use your story to inspire the good in your audience. Be like a mirror where they can see the hero in themselves and be stirred to purposeful action.