7 Tips For Igniting Your Internal Fuel
Written by Andy Goram, Owner, Bizjuicer
I have long since believed that many companies are failing to create, tap into and use a vital and powerful tool that lies wastefully dormant in its employee base. When lit, it's an accelerant that can drive belief, behavioural change, performance and continued success. I like to think of it as, "Internal Fuel."
Whilst there are many factors affecting employee engagement, communication is often cited as the perennial issue for businesses to solve. It continues to be a major gripe for employees and a source of frustration for employers. The result of poor communication isn't just the obvious stuff like an disengaged, demotivated, coasting workforce and an ever-growing list of unfinished initiatives. It's what you don't see that's the worry. How big a success could something have been if everybody in the organisation understood what you were trying to do, why you were trying to do it, what it meant to their daily role and could see what was in it for them, personally? The answer is, we simply don't know how big that could be. But I'm sure we'd agree that it must have some positive effect on the outcome. Right?
My strong belief from seeing it first-hand and what I now try to help businesses with, is that to truly inspire, motivate and bring meaning to your people's roles and work lives, it comes down to thinking about your internal storytelling in as much detail as you do for your external marketing effort.
Storytelling gets a mixed response nowadays. But I'm not talking about the over-produced, fairy-tale, sanitised brand storytelling that some companies try to peddle. They might make the C-Suite feel more comfortable, but frankly, few others believe it. No, I'm talking about solid, engaging storytelling that's rooted to your continuing strategy, is easy to understand, puts your employees in the frame as the hero and is something they can relate to. This is to my mind, the performance-enhancing fuel many are missing out on.
In an attempt to help more businesses multiply the results of their efforts, here are my 7 tips for creating and lighting-up your own potent, internal fuel through better storytelling.
Tip 1: Tie it back to your strategic vision
One of the challenges of engaging your people on a consistent basis, is the prevalence of the "initiative tsunami" in business today. There's always another important "thing" coming down the line, adding to the flood of others ahead of them.
If these "things" appear to be unrelated and disparate, it makes opting out, switching off and waiting for the next change all too easy. The solution is to create a continuum. Keep the bigger quest alive and connect the initiatives by aligning each new story, or as I prefer "chapter", to your bigger strategic goal. Each building on the last, whilst still looking ahead.
Tip 2: Keep it simple
The common pitfall in corporate storytelling is not making it accessible enough to your audience. Because an issue or business is complex, it's felt that the story must reflect that in detail, or it risks being watered or dummed down. That's just wrong! Dump the jargon and complexity and think about your target listener. The easier the tale is for the many to understand and comprehend, the easier it is for them to tell it to others and pass the message on, accurately.
Change-momentum relies heavily on the aligned understanding and dispersal of a consistent message firstly by the influencers and then by the masses. Get that right and you're off and running (in the same direction) on your journey.
Tip 3: Keep it truthful and grounded
Have faith in the real, grounded facts associated with your story. There's often a tendency to pump up the volume of key elements, in the belief that what you're trying to get across isn't loud enough to create the desired action of behavioural change. But there's a massive difference between using poetic licence and creating falsehoods. The more excessively boosted these things become, the less likely they are to be believed. By all means add a little flourish here and there, but keep it truthful. Something that's believable will be more likely to create the change you want, than some over-inflated exaggeration.
Face-up to your mistakes and challenges too. Truly great stories need emotional content, so don't shy away from showing things like vulnerability. Every great hero starts out as the regular guy who's overcome challenges and hurdles to reach their goal. That's what makes us relate to them. This is a well-used framework for telling captivating, memorable stories, which leads me on to...
Face-up to your mistakes and challenges too. Truly great stories need emotional content,so don't shy away from showing things like vulnerability. Every great hero starts out as the regular guy who's overcome challenges and hurdles to reach their goal. That's what makes us relate to them. This is a well-used framework for telling captivating, memorable stories, which leads me on to...
Tip 4: Raise the stakes. Make it a quest.
The best stories told, in my opinion are Quests. A story that takes a potential hero through challenges and risks towards a final goal. The tougher the tests, the sweeter the reward at the end.
Whether it's Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or the Three Little Pigs, over-coming the risk is what takes the audience on the roller-coaster ride of emotions and maintains our interest throughout the story. The same applies in business storytelling. However, some businesses feel the need to sanitise the risk element for fear of scaring the organisation. Please don't do that! Imagine the three stories mentioned above without any of the risk involved, or with the threat significantly reduced. Would they be anywhere near as engaging? Sanitising or de-risking the story makes for a dull, uninteresting and altogether unforgettable tale. That's not the result you're looking for.
Tip 5: Make it human and paint a picture
Every great story should be anchored in a human story. People care about people. In most cases they do not care about companies in the same way. For your story to resonate and work, it must be told through a personal lens. That's the way to get your people to care, to relate to, to believe and importantly, to act.
You need to paint a very clear picture with your words, avoiding misinterpretation of them. The word "freedom", for example,can mean different things to different people. Imagine standing up in front of an audience of unit managers and stating "You're the CEO's of your own business." Is that what you meant? Are you allowing them to opt in and out of initiatives as they choose, changing suppliers and such like? Or did you just want them to take more ownership for their unit performance? The two are quite different. Painting clear, personal pictures to illustrate your message are a great way to avoid misinterpretation and tell the story through a human lens.
Humanising the benefits of the change is important too. Unless they are shareholders, telling your teams that at the end all their efforts will make a lot more money for shareholders, isn't going to be an emotionally fulfilling end to the story for most of them. The audience needs to have hope that something in their lives will be better or feel different in the end. Watch any day-time Quiz Show to see great examples of this. The chance of winning the money is always personalised. "What would you do with the money, Jean?" Jean tells us that she's going to spend the money on plane tickets to Australia to see her 2 year old grandchild that she hasn't met face-to-face before. Is it the money, or the outcome we remember? It makes us think about the same question, "What would we we do?" That's the result you want from your story, an emotional connection that triggers an action.
Tip 6: Workshop it.
These final two tips are, I think, the most powerful, but the ones that are often forgotten or ignored.
Firstly, don't just get up in front of your audience, tell the story, pat yourself on the back for a good job done and move onto the next thing. Give them time to think about what messages they've just heard. Allow them to ask questions and make sense of it. Give them the time to tell it to each other and practice telling it to others in their own words. Share their reflections which will give additional reasons to believe, so that when they go back to the ranch, they can spread the story to their teams consistently, accurately and genuinely from their perspective.
Tip 7: Be relentless and fan the flames
Ensure that your story doesn't just become another lost message in a long line of messages to forget, opt out or ignore by getting out into your business and relentlessly talking about it. When you walk into a business, or department, after saying "hello", make it the first and last thing you speak and ask questions about. Don't just talk to the leaders. Talk to the guys on the floor and out back too. Has the message got down to them? What do they make of it? What's happening as a result?
Then measure and communicate the progress set against the bigger strategic goal it all started with, maintaining that continuum. Call out the people taking the right action, highlight and encourage the efforts being made and celebrate the right behaviours and successes.
These 7 tips will help you create, harness and set alight the performance-enhancing internal fuel in your business. But don't just sit back and stare satisfied at your fire once it's crackling away. You need to continually fan the flames to keep it alive and burning bright. The brighter it burns, the more people it will attract.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer - a consultancy that believes people are the often forgotten internal fuel that can power businesses and brands to greater success. He helps businesses build stronger brands through more engaged and aligned people and consults on customer experience, corporate vision, strategy & values, culture and transformational change, brand proposition and development and employer branding.