The biggest task for HR leaders is bolstering people and building culture. This is how to fix it
Storytelling is an underutilised yet powerful tool that can be a key solution in HR problem-solving, according to Emma Bannister, founder and CEO of Presentation Studio.
For Bannister, the biggest task for HR leaders is “bolstering people and building culture”.
However, there’s plenty of problems which get in the way. Most offices struggle with unwilling employees, organisational hierarchy issues, transient workforce, hostile culture and more.
This is where storytelling can come to the rescue, said Bannister who is also author of the book ‘Visual Thinking: How to transform the way you think, communicate and influence with presentations.’
“Stories move us, motivate us and help us understand who we are,” she said.
“This is what makes them the most potent tool available for leaders. Being a storyteller doesn’t mean you have to be a poet – you don’t even have to be very good with words.”
In the context of leadership, storytelling is about articulating where you’ve come from and setting the vision for the future, Bannister added.
Moreover, the technique comes in many forms, from internal communications and presentations to celebrations, events and marketing.
“Storytelling is an attitude, one which understands our primal drivers as humans and our need to use narrative to understand ourselves and the world around us.”
Bannister cited Dr John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School who had this to say about storytelling and leadership: “Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best—and change—from hearing stories that strike a chord within us …Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves’’.
The quote is a great reminder of the importance of storytelling in our everyday lives as leaders, said Bannister.
There are three major benefits for embracing your role as storyteller and incorporating it into business leadership. These include motivating, building culture and setting expectation for success.
“One of the most challenging parts of every HR leader’s job is welcoming newcomers and saying goodbye to those who aren’t a good fit. Storytelling can come in handy here too,” said Bannister.
“As we tell the stories of our businesses – where we’ve come from and where we’re going - we shape the future.
“Storytelling is a big part of how businesses gain their identity – and this plays an essential role in the hiring and firing processes.”
Indeed, as jobs are advertised, interviews are conducted and contracts are signed, strong storytelling ensures that “new employees are aware of the brand they are stepping into”.
Additionally, storytelling which is projected externally ensures that the right people are attracted to the positions. Similarly, a strong storytelling culture can help redundancies, resignations, etc, go more smoothly.
“If your HR team is good at storytelling, they will be capable of presenting the brand’s story and the individual’s role within that – a helpful way to show employees the bigger picture behind the circumstances.”
Bannister added that storytelling is also an essential ingredient in future-orientated teams.
“Becoming a storyteller is a great leadership technique to push your team towards new goals and achievements,” said Bannister.
“Stories have the power to dictate the next steps our teams take and the vision they work towards.”
In particular, stories which focus on resilience and problem-solving help refocus unmotivated teams.
“Part of good leadership is about re-angling failures in narratives which are growth-oriented and encourage teams to greater success,” she said.
“Stories don’t have to just be about our past, they can be about our future too. ‘Imagine if …’ are often the magic words that it takes to make progress”.
Furthermore, its essential that HR and storytelling go hand in hand.
“As people experts you should be expert storytellers too,” she said.
“Many of the day-to-day challenges which face HR leaders can be helped by having stories on your side. From motivating teams and building rapport to the difficult employment decisions which come your way, storytelling is your secret weapon.
“Create a culture which is robust and certain of its identity by embracing your role as a storyteller.”
Bannister’s final piece of advice? “With every presentation, email, meeting and conversation think: how can I tell a story?”