If you’re a reader of our resources then it’s likely you’re interested in improving your storytelling. I’d guess that most of our readers are primarily interested in external storytelling; in finding ways for the stories they tell to encourage more giving, engagement or action. But while most organisations still prioritise the outside world, an increasing number of clients are talking to us about how to build a culture of internal storytelling.
So what does this mean, is it important and how can you do it?
An internal storytelling culture means working in an environment where everyone instinctively uses stories to relate their point back to the work you do and the impact it has. It means consistently and habitually using stories in all your internal communications and meetings. And it means supporting all staff, not just those in fundraising and communications, to understand the power of stories and to feel confident about identifying and sharing them.
This is important for two key reasons.
Firstly, your staff and volunteers are an audience like all the others you identify in your engagement strategies. What inspires and motivates a person on the outside has the same impact on those inside your organisation. When it comes to external communication channels we know it’s not enough to talk in data and policy and technical language. We know that to truly engage a reader or viewer we must bring our work to life with stories. So why don’t we apply the same approach in our internal communications?
Secondly, those whose job it is to deliver the stories for external engagement know how crucial a strong pipeline is. Identifying the spine-tingling stories for your big campaigns will be far easier if everyone in the organisation, particularly those on the frontline of your work, are spotting and sharing stories on a daily basis.
So what simple steps can you take to develop a culture of internal storytelling?
Here are some of our top tips:
- Use your staff emails to do more than update colleagues on policies, procedures and kitchen cleaning protocols. Get into the habit of including a story in every update. Whether it’s an example of an activity that’s happening in a service, an inspiring change story or a day in the life of a staff member.
- The same goes for your intranet. Don’t just make it a place where people can find holiday forms, the five year strategy and meeting room bookings. Use it as a place where staff can read about the impact your organisation is having. Don’t assume they’ll be following your social channels from their personal feeds – upload your films and photos there too.
- Bring your work to the people who never have the opportunity to leave head office. Hold regular lunchtime talks where staff who work on the frontline of your services talk about their work and the people you support. Invite service users in to talk about their experiences too.
- Go old school. We may not make as many posters for our external audiences anymore, but give people something to read while they’re making their tea or sat on the loo. It’s remarkable the impact a poster on the back of a toilet door can have. A couple of years ago when Trump made his ‘shit holes in Africa’ comment, I remembered the time I read a poster about toilet twinning on the back of a toilet door at Tearfund. I promptly sponsored a toilet in Uganda as a small act of revenge!
- Make it a rule that at the start of every meeting someone in the room shares a story about their work or something they’ve seen or heard about. Too often internal meetings focus on the how so, don’t forget to focus your meetings on the why too. This also works well for away days; build storytelling sessions and inspiration breaks into an agenda that might otherwise feel very focused on problem solving.
- Coach your leaders to talk in stories. People with responsibility for external engagement are adept at thinking in stories. But it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially those whose job it is to think about strategy, budgets and targets. If they’re constantly aligning their internal communications to purpose and impact they lead by example. Others will then become more comfortable communicating in stories.
- Find fun ways to get the stories flowing. We’ve written before about how our client Dogs for Good set up a regular story cafe where those responsible for puppy training and community work could drop in for a croissant and a chat about the things they see in their day to day to work. Never understand the power of a sweet treat in getting someone to stop and have a chat!
If you want to learn more about internal storytelling and train your staff in storytelling skills then have a look at our storytelling courses including verbal storytelling and how to write brilliant stories.