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Calling all communicators: Stand up for story!

Posted by  Paul Ichilcik —March 18, 2021
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling, Corporate Storytelling

What’s the single thing an L&D or Communications Manager can do to make the biggest, most positive impact on their organisation and advance their career?

Of course, it depends on the person and the organisation. But high up there would be to start using more story-based approaches in their programs or communications.

Storytelling is how we’ve learned and shared ideas since the start of time. However, somewhere along the way, businesses and organisations adopted an overly rational way of conveying information or explaining initiatives.

It’s time to redress the balance.

Learning and Development

Let’s start with L&D.

Most training programs provide you with concepts and tools which you are meant to absorb and diligently apply. Yet the biggest complaint we hear from L&D managers is not the lack of quality learning experiences, it’s the fact that little changes in employee behaviour over the long term.

Story-powered communications are a way around this. It makes theory tangible through the use of examples. But not just any old examples. A good example is really a story. It’s a specific sequence of events, in a time and place, with characters (and preferably dialogue) that unexpectedly makes a point or highlights a concept.

We recently worked with a large insurer’s L&D Manager in Sydney, let’s call her Lisa, who took this to heart. Having experienced our Storytelling for Leaders program, she was determined to find actual stories to make a resilience training program meaningful. She reached out to the Head of HR and requested examples. Only two came back. Her subsequent requests were not fruitful either.

However, Lisa knew the impact of stories and didn’t just accept this. She went out and found examples herself, directly from various managers. She uncovered numerous instances where resilience was practiced (or not) in the insurance organisation. When she presented these in the resilience training program it started a snowball effect. Her stories triggered more stories from participants and soon the theoretical concepts came alive in a very practical way. Lisa even received an apology email from the Head of HR who (to her credit) acknowledged how she underestimated their importance.

While most training courses use examples, hardly any make story-based examples the focus of the learning approach. In Lisa’s case, being a devout story practitioner transformed a program from being interesting to becoming indispensable.

Communications

And what about Communications Managers?

So much time is spent developing messages or crafting words to make them more understandable. This is very important but it’s only half the picture. The messages need specific examples or stories to make it tangible for people.

A few years ago, I asked Cynthia, my Amazon Director in Seattle, for the messaging document that the sales team used. She told me to look at the customer references on the intranet. After diligently looking through the customer success stories, I still couldn’t find any core messaging. So, I went back to Cynthia somewhat exasperated and tried to ask again. “Those customer stories are our messaging,” she replied.

I didn’t immediately get it, but as I read through some of the thousands of customer stories Amazon collects it started to become apparent what she meant. Of course, there is a messaging document, but it’s very short and to the point. What really conveys meaning are the customer stories. Every time the CEO or Head of Sales got up to speak, we had stories ready to go—a ‘content engine’, if we want to use the jargon. The comms team still defined clear messages, but each concept was backed by a series of very specific customer stories that focused on the humans we helped, not the organisations.

So, calling all OD or Communications Managers—help redress the balance and stand up for story. We don’t just need story supporters but practitioners who demand that specific stories flow through every training program or messaging effort!

Paul Ichilcik About  Paul Ichilcik

Paul Ichilcik is a Principal in the Sydney office of Anecdote. He is an expert facilitator and story consultant, having worked with C-level leaders across the globe to bring strategy and transformation efforts to life. Paul is a former management consultant and, prior to Anecdote, he worked in the US, in executive communications roles for Amazon, Microsoft and a San Francisco brand agency.

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