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Use storytelling to paint a picture of your company's future

Communicators are storytellers.  We tell the public about our products and services; we tell investors about our financial position; and we tell our employees about our leadership and culture. 

We have shamelessly adopted the “Reagan State of the Union” approach to our speechwriting, and liberally sprinkle our executive speeches and video scripts with examples of real-world customers and employees to underline our key messages.

We communicators are all about stories, and we pride ourselves on knowing how to tell them well.
That’s why I found the topic of this month’s Dulles SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) meeting to be particularly compelling (as opposed to say, changes in immigration law).

The speaker, Melinda Bickerstaff of Healthy Companies International, offered a new way of utilizing storytelling in the workplace – using stories to tell the company’s vision.

She provided three change management case studies – Bristol-Myers Squibb, Discovery TV and Northrup Grumman – where her team created a brief, but compelling story that would lead executives and employees alike into the future.

In the case of Nothrup Grumman, the company’s Gulf Coast shipyards had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina and employee morale was virtually non-existent.  Bickerstaff and her team scripted a story that encompassed themes of patriotism, humanitarianism and pride to inspire workers to remain with Northrup Grumman help rebuild the business.

The stories were told via a series of mock newspaper articles about the fleet – delivering aid to earthquake victims, protecting civilian vessels from Somali pirates, deploying troops to the Persian Gulf – all set five years in the future.  One of Bickerstaff’s future stories “From Nearly Rusted to Clearly Trusted” became the focus of a piece on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” about the rebirth of industries on the Gulf Coast.

To communicate these stories, Bickerstaff and her team designed newspaper “clips” to replicate actual stories from local and national newspapers and posted those mock clips for employees to see.
As I listened to Bickerstaff, I thought about all the stories I’ve written to support change management programs – stories about the current state and what is changing as part of the process.  While those stories are important and address the “what’s in it for me?” factor, they really don’t provide a compelling vision of the future state we hope to achieve.

Next time, I’ll try storytelling..

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