Internal storytelling for more connection in the workplace

Now that we all know that we can work remotely for much of the time, the importance of ‘workshop cohesion’ only gets more interesting. How do you keep things together, so to speak. What increases the collective spirit? How do you keep the feeling alive in everyone that they are all still part of the proud, big picture? Consider internal storytelling.

Zoom, Google Hangouts, MicrosoftTeams, internal chat functions and WhatsApp groups, all good and useful, but they are little more than digital conduit. Today’s pressing key question is: how do you maintain meaningful connection?

Productivity is at stake

Employee engagement is a topic that will be high on the agenda of management boards and Boards of Directors. At least, you can hope so. Especially now that the new generations attach quite a lot of value to meaningful work. Making an impact, making a difference, being part of a relevant higher purpose… Young people want to feel that they are doing something meaningful. For the company, but especially for society or life on earth.

This has been going on for some time now and it is becoming increasingly clear that the need to involve them in the business story is growing. A strong commitment to work and to the organization is irrevocably reflected in the figures for productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover. And the foundation under all this is of course: a good work-life balance.

Internal storytelling is daily work

Strong employee engagement requires an ongoing process to make people feel ‘happy’. It is important that an individual employee can connect his personal dream with that of the company. Many companies have now reached the point where they spend considerable budgets on storytelling (read: content development) to mainly propagate the bigger story externally. Wise as that is for brand and reputation building, it is just as useful to put that same focus on storytelling for internal engagement.

Nowadays you can hardly afford to limit internal communication to a weekly – let alone monthly – newsletter. Collective stories about the mission, vision and values ​​of the organization are essential for internal communication. Those must be stories that dig deeper than is usual in business land.

A planned approach to internal storytelling

Live your story! Certainly in a relatively egalitarian Netherlands, no employee is satisfied with ‘messages from above’. He or she should feel that he or she is in the middle of a story, to which he or she thinks about, contributes to and contributes. The company story is the ‘hero story’ that turns everyone within the organization into a hero themselves.

This can only be achieved by approaching internal storytelling as a structurally continuous and coherent process of especially contemporary ways of storytelling. That will and can vary from company to company, there is no blueprint for it. A law firm, for example, is not a machine factory and the internal storytelling will always look substantially different in that regard.

But the most important thing is: make sure that the company story is not a dead letter. Bring it to life and celebrate it as much as you can with everyone in your company. Below I would like to give you a number of handles to strengthen company culture and employee engagement.

1. Approach storytelling like a campaign

Every successful campaign starts with a strategy. And every strategy starts with a set of clearly defined goals. For example, it may concern a cultural change or the embedding of a newly formulated mission. Or a changed course after a merger or reorganization.

In any case, do not start internal storytelling without it being clear what you are working towards. Only when that goal is clear can you literally campaign plan develop, set out a timeline and choose the right means to achieve the end goal. In any case, it should be easy to get individual stories to a central point (Chief Storytelling?), which can ensure that the stories can be fitted into a campaign or the larger story of the organization. Eleven striking internal communication cases from Belgium can be found here.

2. Tell the story in its entirety

Internal storytelling and external storytelling are two tracks that have the same starting point: the company story. It is important that they do not run too far apart. Although internally the focus is often on connection and collaboration and externally more on strengthening brand and reputation, it is always important to ensure that you do not see two different companies emerging from a technical perspective.

It is so easy to lose sight of atmosphere, tone of voice, style of photography and video and even content. It is of course useful if you use specific storytelling tools to monitor the integrality of the story and thereby facilitate the content strategy with specific story formats.

3. Put people at the center of your stories

Internal stories that do well usually have people from the company in the lead. This not only works well for communicating insights from the middle of the company. It also creates a sense of ownership of the bigger story. This is an important part of stimulating employee involvement and commitment.

Anyone who can share his or her experiences about certain aspects of the work with the rest of the organization knows that they have been heard and contributes to the story, as it were. Activate this right across the organization, and you build a story surprisingly quickly that everyone can identify with. As part of the internal corona project, the Board of Directors of NS asked to call colleagues all over the company to ask how they were doing.

4. Share stories as they happen

Today all companies are media companies, but most don’t know that yet! Certainly in larger organizations, something always happens that in some way fits in with the company story or is the result of it. Therefore, build in live storytelling and tell what is happening as current as possible.

The longer you wait to publish a story about a recent event or achievement, the less impact it will have. People are very interested in stories that happen (almost) in real time. For example, involve them in a milestone that can be celebrated immediately, if not physically then at least digitally. In ‘home-work hours’, connect remotely more and more important.

5. Provide a good story mix

There’s no limit to the kind of information you can convey through stories, but don’t overdo it either. There is still work to be done, after all. But a story doesn’t always have to be about a recent achievement within your team or department, for example. It could be a customer success story or a best practice case study showing how a customer has used a particular product. It can be a collage of press releases about a particular initiative that the organization recently picked up as part of CSR.

Professional articles from home and abroad about leading research or opinion pieces that are relevant to the company are also worth sharing. A varying mix of news, experiences, events and relevant professional information keeps the reporting current and exciting. This ensures that people remain actively interested in what is happening in the world of the company.

6. Telling according to the townhall method

Digital times or not, it pays to think about ways of storytelling where people are physically together. The ‘townhall meeting’ is a concept that has entered the business world in recent years. It can take many forms, from an impromptu ‘Hyde Park Corner’ box office session in the cafeteria to its own version of a TEDx Talk in the company hall.

Employees have the opportunity to ask questions and participate in the discussions. This works especially well if top management plays a central role in this. It increases the visibility of management, makes them approachable, enhances the sense of openness and increases employee confidence in leadership.

7. Stay authentic

Walk the talk! Stories that come straight from the heart convey honesty. And honesty has become an absolute issue in this day and age. CEOs and other directors should steer clear of polished scripts handed to them by professional writers and choose to share their own stories and experiences.

Even if the company is currently struggling and you share bad news, you’ll make a better impact with a sincere story than by putting disappointing numbers into perspective. The more open you are in your stories, the more likely your employees are to believe in what you say. And to take the annoying message in itself as a challenge for everyone to take it up a notch.

Do you have any additions? Share them below.

Source: Frankwatching by

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