Friday, July 6, 2012
Sustaining Employee Engagement With Strategic Storytelling
To fully leverage the potential of the sustainable brand, organizational leaders must find ways to fully engage and infuse their workforce with enthusiasm around the noble and essential higher purpose that not only drives the brand, but also defines it. The most effective way to do this is through strategic storytelling.
Storytelling can focus, align and inspire the human energy needed to realize the sustainability positioning of your brand and the larger vision for the organization connected to that positioning. When used strategically, stories can infuse your plan with meaning, making the ideas and principles driving your efforts real for your employees.
Though typically made through brand communications, the promises of sustainability are brought to life through the thousands of actions and decisions made daily by managers and employees. To properly guide those actions and decisions, organizations must first make certain their brand is truly sustainable. Sustainability—and the “future generation” higher purpose associated with it—must actually be part of the brand’s core story, not just an operational tangent to it.
Assuming sustainability is an integral thread of your organization’s brand story, you can set about using strategic storytelling to engage employees in that story and, importantly, sustain their engagement around it long into the future. What follows are three guidelines on how to do just that.
1. Present the sustainable brand positioning to employees in the memorable language of stories. As noble as the words “optimize”, “ integrity” and “innovation” sound on a plaque or in an annual report, when used to communicate your brand positioning to employees, they’re neither distinguishing, nor provocative or memorable. And if employees don’t recall the language of your strategic planning efforts, chances are they are not talking about it or acting on its objectives, either. GE uses stories extensively to bring its Ecomagination story to life, making real for employees, customers and the broader marketplace the higher purpose driving their efforts and the positive impacts resulting from them.
2. Give your employees the means to share stories about your sustainable brand. Employee stories keep your brand positioning current and tangible by reinforcing how it’s coming to life every day—in the field, at corporate headquarters and everywhere in between. What’s more, as more employees share their stories, they take on greater philosophical ownership of the sustainable brand positioning those stories exemplify. For example, the GE Reports website contains a rich collection of stories of “imagination at work” identified and put forward by GE employees around the globe. This creates a greater sense of connection between employees and the larger sustainability story GE is telling the world.
3. Fan the flames of employee engagement and enthusiasm by becoming your organization’s “Storyteller-in-Chief.” When corporate leaders ask for new ways of thinking, talking and acting, employees will always look up the ladder to see if you are practicing what you preach. One of the best ways executives and managers of a company can “walk the sustainability talk” is by regularly sharing stories that demonstrate and exemplify the company’s sustainability efforts coming to life.
So, as you embark on the next wave of strategic planning around sustainability, consider using storytelling to more effectively connect what you’re trying to achieve with the employees you need to achieve it. More than anything, it can help bring about meaningful change for your brand, your business and the larger world in which you do business. And that’s something worth sustaining.
Bill Baker is founder and principal of BB&Co Strategic Storytelling. BB&Co has helped business leaders of organizations such as Relais & Châteaux, Johnson & Johnson and GE, as well as the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the University of British Columbia and others advance their brands, businesses and people through strategic storytelling. For more information about BB&Co, visit http://billbakerandco.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.