TELLING TALES – WHY THE HR DIRECTOR SHOULD BE A STORYTELLER

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Neil Hayward | HR Director | HS2 | 4th May 2020

When you talk to people about organisational life you can discover many layers of attitudes and beliefs formed from many years of experiences, good and bad, particularly during times of change.

On the surface those inside organisations often portray the sort of ‘good corporate citizen’ instinct they think is expected of them despite what’s going on all around them. They will be loyal and defend their employer to the hilt against criticism. And talk a lot about how their organisation adds value to them and to society. Dig a bit deeper though, and you find many who are much more cynical, and rather less accepting of what they see, or have themselves been experiencing.

How you feel about your own organisation, and the message that it’s selling, is influenced by your personal experience of it, your past experiences with other employers, and how you see your family and friends being treated right now too. We don’t buy everything we hear. We are weary of management fads. We can spot a fake. We can see when an organisation doesn’t live up to its brand promise, and when the values on the wall are just that, and nothing more. And we are all thinking about this right now, aren’t we, as we see how companies are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic? The good, the bad and the ugly is happening right in front of us.

The implicit message behind this critique of organisational life is – “It’s all a total load of rubbish, nobody cares about what I believe or think, just keep your head down, play the game and be cynical”

There’s another way of looking at this though, with another range of attitudes. For every cynical person, there’s someone who isn’t (yet). For these people, work takes up too much time to be put into the bucket of “Let’s just get through it all somehow today, tomorrow, and the day after”. Such people need to be looked after because they do care about their work. They still want the issues that matter to them to be tackled though. They want to be heard. They want something, and someone, to believe in as this helps justify all the time they spend working. They should be our focus.

And that’s even more important now, as the boundaries between work and home become blurred, perhaps irrevocably. And, as change becomes an ever-present factor in our lives as citizens first, and employees second.

These issues can’t be ignored. Organisations are where we spend most of our lives. We work in them, buy from them, borrow ideas and practices from them, look to them for the help and information we need to live our lives, and much, much more. We should therefore always be trying to make organisational life better, for as many people as we can, when we can.

So, who’s job is it to make you believe in an organisation particularly if you work for it? It’s a job for HR. It’s your job as an HR Director to lead this. When the going gets tough, the tough need to get going! And this really, really matters if your organisation needs to change, or is already in the middle of a big change. That’s when stories can really help get you through…….

What do I mean? Through storytelling you can provide both the direction, and the points of relevance needed to focus your audience of employees (and customers, and society overall) on the things that will best drive action and positive outcomes for your organisation.

So, what does a good story look like? From my perspective, you can easily frame one for your organisation by doing the following:     

  • Start at the end with what success looks like for you. What is the end point of your journey? A change.
  • Next, work backwards. What do you want to compel your audience to do now to drive the change that you seek? Keep it simple. An action.
  • With that clearly understood, work backwards further still. How does your audience need to feel in order to be compelled to take the required action to drive the changes you want? An experience.
  • Finally, the start. What does your audience need to know now to get going? The scene.

If you do all of this properly, your story will bring all the people of different backgrounds and mindsets, inside your organisation, together to a common point of reflection. You will have ensured they can each consider the impact, positive or negative, that your story’s message will likely have on them, and if you’ve done this well, you will have stated to compel them to be a part of your required action and change. Then, and only then, will you have a chance of making your intended change stick.

One final reflection for you: As Human Resources professionals we share the responsibility of attracting and developing talent, coaching leaders, and energising our employees inside our companies. At the end of the day we should be able to say that we’ve maximised our people’s potential to achieve our organisation’s goals. With Human Resources already becoming the most critical resource for any organisation, this is simply another opportunity for us to continue to enhance our effectiveness. We are all born storytellers as well as listeners and most of us consciously or sub-consciously leverage storytelling already. What we already do naturally as individuals can be done more broadly inside our organisations too. From the few to the many…….