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Sharing Stories

– By Andrew Thorp

A few months ago my business partner, Sara, attended a networking event and met a chap from a wealth management company. Here’s how the conversation went:

Man: What do you do then?

Sara: We encourage companies to use stories as a way to connect with their audience and engage their own people.

Man: That’s sounds interesting, I suppose CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) comes into that then?

Sara: Well yes it does actually.

Man: Yes, we’re really into CSR at (insert name of a well-known bank).

Sara: Oh really, what sort of stuff are you doing?

At this point the conversation took an odd turn. The man looked very uncomfortable, his eyes darted around the room and he replied, “Oh we have a department that deals with that.”

It was an unfortunate remark. The man had a wonderful opportunity to pull something out of the bag, maybe not his own CSR initiative but something going on elsewhere within the organisation. But he had nothing in the vault.

That’s one of the reasons I believe companies need to develop a ‘story library’, a collective vault of experiences into which people can dip. We all have a library of experiences within us but imagine the potential of an ‘aggregated’ resource.

Sharing stories is a wonderful way of tapping into the gold within a business. Bringing employees together in a safe and facilitated environment and asking them to share experiences (not just information) creates enormous possibilities.

A recent workshop produced an HR story about a highly regarded employee who, despite progressing well during her two years with the company, had decided to resign. The MD got wind of this and invited her to his office for a cup of tea and a chat. “What’s this all about?” he asked. “Well,” she replied. “In the two years I’ve been here this is the first time you’ve invited me into your office for a chat, and that’s really why I’ve chosen to leave!”

A small story with a big message.

Sharing experiences gives us a real understanding of what’s actually going on. You’re not asking people for information (which leads to a kind of filtering process). You’re asking them to relate something that happened, sometimes a triumph, sometimes a struggle but where the meaning and the lessons to be learned may be profound and multi-faceted.

Quite apart from the internal benefits, story-sharing creates fabulous CONTENT which brings your marketing message to life. And we know that Google loves content!

Take a look at the award-winning blog by Southwest Airlines (“Nuts about Southwest”) as an example of story-mining. The bloggers (a cohort of baggage handlers, pilots, check-in staff and engineers on the hunt for material) feel great about their contribution to the brand, but from the outside world Southwest looks like a friendly, fun, customer-focused organisation.

These authentic stories (where your employees are creating real VALUE for others) humanise your message and give form to the values you’ve probably listed on your web site. They give the marketplace an indication of what you’re like as an organisation and give your employees some model behaviours to which they can aspire.


Andrew Thorp

Andrew Thorp is a business speaker, writer and trainer based in Manchester. He is co-founder of Mojo Your Business, a consultancy and training company that helps organisations tell their story better, both on line and off, externally and internally. An Academy for Chief Executives speaker, he has worked with a range of companies including Unilever, KPMG, Beaverbrooks, General Medical Council and Pannone.

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