3 Reasons Why Storytelling Is So Right, Right Now (part 1)

A few of us at The O’Keefe Group were talking about the ongoing challenges of managing work with kids at home, and one colleague shared that she had been struggling to get her 9-year-old daughter Sofie to do her reading assignments each day.

She was also worried about her Aunt Margaret, a former teacher who is elderly, living alone and isolated. After a frustrating day of juggling the battle to read with client work, a light bulb went off – why not put the two together?

Now, every morning, an eager third-grader reads to her Aunt over FaceTime. Sofie is happily fulfilling her daily reading requirement, Aunt Margaret thoroughly enjoys this highlight of her day, and my colleague is able to focus on work!

Not only did this put a smile on all of our faces, it reminded us how powerful storytelling can be—perhaps even more so during this time when we are all in need of connection and inspiration.

Organizations that effectively use storytelling during this tumultuous time in our history are going to come out ahead. Why? Because employees are more distracted than ever. Stories “cut through the noise” – giving employees the information you need them to know, in a way that inspires action.

Why storytelling works…

•  Messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone.

•  Science tells us why. When we hear a story, chemicals like cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in the brain:
– Cortisol helps us remember things.
– Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged.
– Oxytocin, associated with empathy, is an important element in building, deepening, or maintaining good relationships.

Storytelling can help leaders build trust.
Right now, employees are receiving an enormous amount of communication. And yet, in these uncertain times, there is so much information your employees need and, in fact, want to hear from you!

A recent Edelman survey found that 63% of employees trust their employer more than they trust government or news sources for information about COVID-19. Plus employees often rely on their immediate supervisor when it comes to understanding change and how it affects them. This is especially true as organizations prepare to bring workers back into the office.

If you haven’t already, ask your leaders to send out regular updates, sharing stories of how the organization is responding to the COVID-19 challenge. This is a great way for leaders to show empathy, compassion, and their human side (including when pets or kids interrupt a video!).

Francis McLoughlin, Senior Communications Partner, CVS Health, captures this sentiment well: “Leaders are becoming more human, engaging with the rank and file more often and in a more honest way. Employees appreciate transparency, even if the message is difficult, and they will be more willing to help with the best solution.”

Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Human Resource Officer gets this right with his salute to “onsite superheroes” who are working daily to manufacture critical health care products and advance a COVID-19 vaccine. A senior executive at another Fortune 500 company takes a different approach, creating weekly videos from his home office, dressed in casual clothes. In the 2-minute videos, he thanks all employees for their hard work in the face of uncertainty by sharing specific stories of teams and individuals who have gone above and beyond.

This recognition through storytelling is key because, as a recent International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) article reinforces, “Recognition does more than raise spirits; it demonstrates generosity, which builds trust.”

Don’t miss our 2nd installment: how storytelling can create organizational goodwill at a time when we all need a little extra inspiration.

Clear and open communication with employees is always critical. We’ve been helping clients communicate with their employees in both good and bad times for over two decades. If you need an extra set of hands to keep employees informed, let us know. We’re here to help.