Humans have an emotive response to stories that begins when we are young, they stretch and test the imagination. They helping people bring to life a situation and communicate its significance. Developing the capability to tell stories effectively is an important way for HR to influence and motivate.
HR is a very complex, nuanced subject because it deals with human relationships in the workplace, and it is difficult to bring down to black and white bullet points. Storytelling is a very effective way to explain complex and nuanced issues to people because we can all relate to them
Too much of our communication is based on the rational and not the emotional. Effective story telling works on both levels.
Storytelling can help HR effectively sell ideas or opportunity to the business and bring HR data to life.
Ultimately, storytelling will help HR connect with the business and build its influence. HR struggles to get its message across at senior level and research has shown it is often not valued highly as a function by the top team. Developing the ability to ‘story tell’ effectively would help to solve this issue. Story telling is also a great tool that that can be used to engage people with initiatives that may initially be unpopular.
Good stories require a narrative that is compelling throughout. It also requires confident and passionate delivery. Too much of HR practice is fixed on the ordinary and mundane, our agendas are not compelling and our passion for what we do is missing. By learning to tell the story, through whatever means, we will learn to focus on the areas that excite and prioritise those.
We feel that storytelling should be a necessary part of the craft of becoming a competent practitioner in HR/OD/L+D etc. Learning to structure a narrative to make it compelling and to effectively present business problems using a storytelling structure will enable better relationships and cohesion across organisations.
HR also needs to better at articulating why things need to be done - including some of the boring processes. Good storytelling can explain this to staff, line management and make it memorable and relevant to them.
This mini hack is about giving HR practitoners the skills, confidence and a sense of what can be achieved through using storytelling in their roles. As well as what we can achieve wit this mini-hack (see first steps) in the short term, there should be more emphasis in initial training of HR practitioners on influencing skills – plus ongoing development on the practical techniques of storytelling. There are some great people out there who do this really well.
In practice, HR practitioners would develop the skills and confidence to communicate their vision and purpose in a way that excites and compels, they would tailor their vision and purpose to the areas that do this. HR would be a focal point of compelling narrative, it would become the must read thriller, not the process manual.
This is about airing and sharing. How can colleagues and peers understand what you do/know/learn if you cannot articulate that in an interesting way? This is about helping to do that - on a personal/professional/organizational and peer group level.
Role modeling is critical. If someone starts doing this in an organisaiton and gets great results others will follow.
The challenges are:
- The lack of capability in the HR teams. The considerable change from current practice.
- Noise from and trendiness of focus on data
- Incorrect belief that it isn’t a commercial approach
- Lack of bravery/courage to attempt new things
- Perception that soft skills don’t bring hard results
- Finding a voice, practical skills, confidence
- Fear of legal implications often gets in the way of HR voicing an opinion or putting their head above the parapet
In terms of overcoming these challenges, it’s about the courage to start...we all have anecdotes that we may tell between ourselves (other HR professionals). We just need to aim the right stories at the right people.
How many times have we said “I remember in my last company we had a case where...” or “I’ve encountered this situation before, it was during the last reorganisation, and what happened was...” At its most basic, that is storytelling.
See also the next section . . .
Our approach is to start small and build up, role modeling along the way.
First, we will get a bunch of HR leaders to tell their story in writing in a shared space for others to see. What is it they are trying to deliver in their organisations and how can others help them develop their story through editing.
We will create a shared space online (site) where colleagues/peers can share their stories. We propose supporting this with a Twitter profile and hashtag to provide a focus and support. We will compile storytelling resources on the site.
If these ideas work we would like to build on them with workshops asking HR leaders for stories. We will work with HR leaders to help them shape stories and ask them to share stories with teams or more openly (stand in the canteen! run storytelling lunches).
We would aim to publish a book of the stories. Circulate a recommended format. Encourage teams to create and share their own. All of this could be achieved at almost zero cost.
By the time of the CIPD’s centenary conference we would expect to have some stories to share and would like to do that at the event – and record and share them on our site . . . and get more people to try out storytelling. You get the picture.
We are collecting storytelling resources in this shared document so please contribute if you can.
Thankyou all for your time, ideas and input.
Our mini-hack was developed in an open document which anyone can access.
The document is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1davVMEDlHAtL2G9KUo8oo1iJFpGaBM5FaY6J...
And we developed our ideas in a Google Hangout which we recorded. You can see the video here: