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An Edelman perspective on making meaningful employee

connections that deepen engagement, build trust
and accelerate business performance


Creating a Compelling Narrative That Works for Your People and Your Organization

Whats a staple of corporate websites, a mainstay of new hire orientations, and can sometimes be spotted in its
native habitat, the press release boilerplate? A companys story, of course. As entertainment business guru Peter
Guber said, the ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial to almost every phase of
enterprise management. It works all along the business food chain.
Company storytelling is ubiquitous and hardworking. When done well, it can bolster customer and employee
engagement, corporate reputation and the bottom line. Here are four steps for crafting a compelling narrative
and getting the most out of it, starting with a companys first stakeholders: its employees.

Step 1: Inspire

Step 2: Equip

Your corporate story will go nowhere if it transports no

one. Like nearly all compelling stories, a strong
corporate narrative tracks to this surefire recipe. It:

Once youve identified your unique story, nothing

elevates it like a master storyteller. Ensure that your
storys first spokespersonsmost often senior leaders
are equipped to share the story in a gripping, personal
way. Effective preparation:

Has a beginning, middle, and end. IKEAs founder

Ingvar Kamprad starts a compelling story about his
desire to put design within the reach of the masses,
then introduces the idea of forming a partnership
with customers, and closes explaining the savings
realized by bulk buyingall in a single paragraph.
Introduces productive tension by asking why?
then gets to the what, how, where and when?
Often, the why? comes in the form of a challenge
that begs for a hero (this could be your founder or a
star product) who can overcome. Watch Workdays
video to see starting with why in action.

Engages at least some of the five senses. Such

details make your story memorable and repeatable.
Sara Blakely has an indelible story about how she
wore the same pair of tight white pants for three
years to sell Spanx to department store buyers.

Is unlike any other organizations story.,

legendary in its devotion to company culture, offers
new hires $3,000 to leave after onboarding if theyre
not a fit. Others have since followed suit, but Zappos
has first-tellers rights.

Supports leaders in mining their own lives for

authentic stories that help listeners emotionally
connect with the corporate narrative.

Provides a rigorous, disciplined approach that


Enhances the effectiveness of existing messages

without replacing them.

Step 3: Align
It may initially seem counterintuitive, but the best way
to ensure all employeesacross business units,
geographies, roles and languagesare aligned
around a common corporate story may be to first
acknowledge that were not all the same. Employees
have divergent communications preferences and
learning styles. Deliver your story through multiple
formats and channels. Think about written scripts, audio
files, videos, slide presentations, infographics, managerled discussions, practice sessions for customer-facing
employees, and so forth.

2016 Edelman

Step 4: Activate

Show Up in Unexpected Places

Storytelling is by nature a communal activity that

reaches the height of its power when it develops a
life of its own. Great stories inspire us to re-tell them to
still more people. Thats the magic of the fourth and
final step: Activate.

Some companies are opting for a non-traditional

approach, taking what was once a reference
toolthe employee handbookand elevating it
to somewhere in the realm of the stone tablet of
company lore.

The best way to guarantee a story will be shared, aka

go viral, is to keep it short and snack-able. In line
with the way we consume media in our personal
lives, effective employee content today is brief and
highly visual. Bite-sized articles, short videos (90
seconds or less), infographics, listicles and
Buzzfeed-style quizzes generate interest and
engagement compared with long-form intranet
articles and dense emails.

Valve Software is one such organization. Its

workplace experience is so uniqueno bosses,
employees choose their own projects, all desks
are on wheelsthat Valve makes its new
employee handbook available as a download
on its jobs site. Coming in at a slim, eminently
readable 37 pages, its one part guide, one part
manifesto and one part advertisement. Its also
beautifully designed to look like a physical book,
complete with color illustrations and handwritten
notes in the margins, but lives on the company
intranet where employees can edit it in real
timethis story is alive.

Yet stories shouldnt merely be briefthey need to

be fun. Best-in-class organizations drive engagement
with the corporate story by challenging employees
to take a specific action. This could be as simple as
inviting employees to tape themselves answering a

Think Outside the Slides

Theres something almost mystical about the
prospect of hundreds of thousands of employees
sharing one story about a company and its
strategy. However, when you need to reach a
large and diverse workforce, its imperative to
think outside the box slide deck.
Edelman supported a global technology
organization which created a highly visual
storytelling program that transcended language,
geography and cultural divides. One of its most
effective story training tools took the form of a
narrated video in which concepts were
physically illustrated in a real-time white board
drawing. This was accompanied by a step-bystep PDF guide to drawing the storys central
visuals. In addition, the story and core supporting
materials were translated into 18 languages.
More than 45,000 employees completed the
training, and feedback on the program set a
new standard for internal education initiatives.

The Valve handbook is a terrific example of what

can happen when strong communicators move
beyond pulling the company story through in
message points or even job descriptions
(although doing that is advised too).

central question or explaining how they support the

companys narrative through their own story. Such
content is infinitely shareable, and social networks
distribute storytelling responsibility and amplify
communicators reach.
Thats it: Tell a good story well. Make it easy for
everyone to tell it. Keep it going.
As long as your organization exists, so should your story.
It will evolve and your employee engagement tactics
in support of it will change, but theyll never cease.
One company took the ultimate step, embedding
storytelling in the way they do business: managers
open every team meeting with a storyor tap one of
their reports to do soso that everyone has a chance
to tell stories. Now tell us wouldnt you like to work for
that organization?

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2016 Edelman