I recently had a meeting with a senior manager from a fairly large corporation who wanted to know more about EarthWork’s team building sessions. He was struggling to get employees on board with a new sustainability initiative the company is rolling out.
“Ok look,” he said, “It’s not just lack of engagement. Due to company dynamics the whole thing has to be done virtually. Oh, and we have a small problem with extra departmental conflict.”
“No problem,” I told him confidently. “We can definitely help you solve that problem.”
“Specifically speaking, how will your team help us solve this problem?”
I didn’t hesitate—this is Earthwork’s forte, after all. “Breakout rooms and personal narrative.”
He scoffed. “Personal narrative? As in stories? Seriously, that kind of language isn’t going to fly around here. There’s no way I will convince my people to spend an afternoon telling stories.”
Even though that project just wasn’t in the cards, we did learn a big lesson: In the business world today, stories are things you tell your kids at bedtime. Or read at the beach. Or watch on Netflix. They are not something you do at work.. Which is a shame because businesses who don’t employ storytelling are truly missing out—on engagement, brand loyalty and profits.
Some storytelling science
Scientists say we are hardwired for stories. When we hear a good story, our brains release oxytocin. Not only is oxytocin the feel good, trust hormone, but it also plays an active role in helping us remember and use detailed information. Got a PowerPoint full of statistics? Throw in a story or two—people are 22 times more likely to remember a story-based statistic and then act on that information.
Wait. It gets better. Engaging stories cause the brainwaves of the listener to sync with those of the storyteller (we actually “get on the same wavelength”!). This makes it much more likely that storytellers will be able to convince their audience of their point of view. In addition, stories are proven behavior change agents. We are more likely to change a behavior when someone who has made that change tells us a story of their journey.
How storytelling improves business
- Customers relate to stories. When companies pair products with stories, customers rate the value of the product much higher than if it didn’t come with a story—in some cases over 2000% higher!**
- Employees are much more likely to accept and engage with a company’s mission when it is story driven.
- Sharing stories builds trust and cohesion on teams— especially those that are diverse or remote. This is because stories help us connect to those we perceive as different, thereby increasing trust and empathy.
- Stories help show transparency and values. Three quarters of surveyed customers say they want to support a company whose values match their own. And, in a related study, 68% of employees said they would take a pay cut to work for an employer that shared their values.
How can you make storytelling part of your business model?
- Listen to your audience (customers, suppliers, employees) and try to understand their problem. Where are they right now with this problem and how do they feel about it? What does their perfect future look like— the one where their problem is solved? How will they feel when they realize this perfect future?
- Now tailor your story to directly speak to your audience. Let them help you understand their problem and needs. -your story needs to speak directly to your specific audience—show them you understand their problem and hint that you know the solution to creating their perfect future.
- Choose your imagery and feelings to match your audience. The more they can relate to your story, the more impact it will have.
- Practice. In front of the mirror, to your partner, your dog, or total strangers in line at the grocery story (hey why not?!). The more you tell the story the more it will become yours and seem genuine when you tell it to your intended audience.
Do you want to establish a strong brand, develop effective teams built on trust, bridge departmental silos and strengthen ties with colleagues and customers? Connect with us at EarthWork Collective and see how stories can be a powerful tool to help energize your organization.
*Some details changed to maintain confidentiality.
**You can thank oxytocin again for this one: that little hormonal wonder not only increases positive feelings towards an item, it also makes customers willing to pay more!
Menabney, D. (2020). How to use storytelling to build stronger remote teams in the new normal. In Forbes. Retrieved on June 26, 2023 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenmenabney/2020/06/18/how-to-use-storytelling-to-build-stronger-remote-teams-in-the-new-normal/?sh=615967663a19
Qualtrix XM. (2022). Employees who feel aligned with company values are more likely to stay. Retrieved on June 26, 2023 from https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/company-values-employee-retention/
Richardson Gosline, R., Lee, J. And Urban, G. (2017). The power of consumer stories in digital marketing. In MIT Sloane Management Review.
Zac, P.J. (2014). Why your brain loves good storytelling. In Harvard Business Review. https://untoldcontent.com/storytelling-organizational-change/