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How Telling Stories at Work Solved Our HR Problem

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storytelling-fundamentals
The fundamentals of storytelling may seem fuzzy at first, but with a little training, storytelling can become a lifelong habit and permeate everything you do. Photo: Adam Stenhouse.

ECHO is made up of storytellers. We tell stories about our travels, about our kids, about our work. This may sound like an obvious statement; half of our team are dedicated writers who tell stories for a living. But we are also production editors, web developers, project managers, and photo specialists. Storytelling isn’t necessarily inherent in these job descriptions.

And yet, whether it’s the nature of our work and the kind of talent we attract or simply a coincidence, stories are shared at the ECHO studio on a daily basis.

Recently, however, we’ve been thinking that we shouldn’t be relying on good fortune alone to ensure that our team lives and breathes storytelling. We should be living the advice we already give our clients.

ECHO, like many workplaces, is a company built on values. Three, in particular, guide us:

    Positive energy (we adapt to changing situations and trust each other to find solutions)
    Creative rigour (we are extremely thorough, exhaustive and we hunt for the details)
    Unconventional caring (we find unique ways to delight and surprise people)

We make all our decisions based on these values, which goes an extremely long way in creating a trusting work environment and ensuring happy, satisfied clients.

But as the company grows, how do we ensure that new employees grasp and understand these values?

This was the question we grappled with recently, after adding four new staff members in a short period of time. We knew that, on paper, the company values were important and foundational in our business decisions and how we conducted ourselves at work, but were we living these values in a real way? And how could we communicate to new employees their significance if we weren’t satisfied with the way we were living them ourselves?

For the answer we turned to storytelling.

Learning to Walk Our Talk

Not only would we encourage long-standing employees to share stories about work that exemplified these values (and encourage new staff to ask for these stories in a series of one-on-one coffee dates), we also decided to take a page from our own agency services and engage in storytelling training.

Our fearless Story Director John Burns took the reins and one Friday afternoon delivered a much truncated version of his sought-after storytelling workshop.

Our homework after John’s in-house training session has been to start crafting stories that exemplify our company values based on the classic storytelling arc: hero encounters a challenge; hero makes an extraordinary choice; something remarkable happens; hero changes. Once our stories are prepped, one member workshops them with the team on select Friday afternoons over snacks (and okay, yes, beer too). The process is ongoing, but it’s proving valuable. Not only are we gaining fascinating insight into our colleagues and their varying approaches to work and life, but we’re also seeing how story can begin to permeate everything you do.

Story Lives Everywhere

I happen to be one of the new staff members mentioned earlier, and while I’ve been in the writing and publishing world for almost two decades, I can say that I’ve never thought more deeply about story than I have these last two months.

At ECHO we often say that story lives everywhere; its application is broad – in business and in life. Once you start thinking in these terms, you begin to see how story can help solve problems, enhance relationships, influence and inspire others, neutralize conflict, and instil values. We say (and show) this to our clients daily through our storytelling work – whether it’s through our training, writing, marketing, or everyday client communication – and as we grow as an agency, we’re seeing the value of this approach play out within our studio, too. We’re walking the talk and it feels good.

So, over to you. Can you imagine how telling stories at the office could help your team understand their work better? How would you incorporate storytelling at your company? What possibilities could open up with this kind of communication? We’d love to hear your ideas.