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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

What’s 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 company’s 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 company’s 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 you’ve identified your unique story, nothing
elevates it like a master storyteller. Ensure that your
story’s first spokespersons—most often senior leaders—
are equipped to share the story in a gripping, personal
way. Effective preparation:

Has a beginning, middle, and end. IKEA’s 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 buying—all 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 Workday’s
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 organization’s story.,
legendary in its devotion to company culture, offers
new hires $3,000 to leave after onboarding if they’re
not a fit. Others have since followed suit, but Zappos
has first-teller’s 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 employees—across business units,
geographies, roles and languages—are aligned
around a common corporate story may be to first
acknowledge that we’re 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. That’s the magic of the fourth and
final step: Activate.

Some companies are opting for a non-traditional
approach, taking what was once a reference
tool—the employee handbook—and 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 unique—no bosses,
employees choose their own projects, all desks
are on wheels—that Valve makes its new
employee handbook available as a download
on its jobs site. Coming in at a slim, eminently
readable 37 pages, it’s one part guide, one part
manifesto and one part advertisement. It’s 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
time—this story is alive.

Yet stories shouldn’t merely be brief—they 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
There’s 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, it’s 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 story’s 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
company’s narrative through their own story. Such
content is infinitely shareable, and social networks
distribute storytelling responsibility and amplify
communicators’ reach.
That’s 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 they’ll never cease.
One company took the ultimate step, embedding
storytelling in the way they do business: managers
open every team meeting with a story—or tap one of
their reports to do so—so that everyone has a chance
to tell stories. Now tell us… wouldn’t you like to work for
that organization?

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© 2016 Edelman