How are stories used in IC?
(a theoretical perspective)
The story is a pull strategy, is “like building a sandcastle in the sand instead of drawing a line in the sand. You invite curiosity, build interest and encourage participation” (Simmons, 2001, p. 165). A personal story works better within an organisation. For examples, a team of engineers who worked together for more than ten years are now at an impasse, frustrated because they cannot define their role and responsibilities clearly. So, one of them says a story when he was little and was on holiday with their family and had to build a cabin, and even though they argued, in the end, everyone pulled together. This kind of story makes peoples feel more connect and added depth, moving a one-dimensional problem to a multidimensional perspective (Simmons, 2001).
McLellan (2006) classifies the purpose of organisation stories in: story gathering, story sharing, story making and storytelling. Story gathering implies collecting the employee’s feedback. Story sharing happens when employees transfer knowledge between them sharing experiences, insights, personal stories and so on. Story making is the process of creating the narratives and storytelling is how the stories are framed in order to be understood. For instance, stories presented through case studies, real-life examples and so on.
Another classification of storytelling was made by the level of where stories occur, facilitating communication within a company (Reissner & Pagan, 2011).:
- Corporate stories which convey the organisation’s vision, mission, identity. Corporate stories provide direction and construct a coherent story to determine employees to get involved in what organisation is doing;
- Managerial stories which translate the corporate story into systems, processes, procedures, behaviour, and norms. These managerial stories are a useful tool for managers to motivate their team to become involved in organisation’s systems and procedure making the corporate story true.
In this research the focus will be on managerial stories, analysing how stories are used in a strategic way to engage employees. Even though traditionally stories are seen as a one-way communication, in Internal Communication stories are two-way encouraging employees to share their stories and participate in the company stories being part of the co-creational process (Spear, 2015). Also, Gill (2015) supports the idea that storytelling is two-way dialogue opening a more personal communication between managers and employees. In practice, IC practitioners should be more focused on how to build this two-way symmetrical relationship especially because it will contribute to organisational interest as well as employees interest (Bruning, et al., 2004). In order to have a good corporate story, it should be: true, trustworthy, aesthetic and have to resonate with the employees (Verlee, 2014). Furthermore, another key aspect of storytelling is to have all elements fit together (Dowling, 2006).
Kent (2015) states that the components of a good story are:
- Emplotment: the type of story;
- Narrative theory: narrative is part of everyday life, and it can use specific language and rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos, metaphors, archetypes, syllogism, and enthymemes);
- Identification: connecting emotionally with employees;
- Form: the structure of a story by using plots.
Some practical advice in using strategic narrative in Internal Communication were given by Bill (2014). The first suggestion is to present the strategic planning using the memorable language of stories. The second recommendation says that employees should be invited to take part in creating stories while they are still being crafted. Third advice highlights the need of offering to employees the chance to share and showcase stories. The last one suggests involving leaders to become part of the storytelling.
In conclusion, storytelling is a useful tool to enhance employee engagement (Gill, 2011a) and should be incorporated in the Internal Communication strategy. In the next section, it will be discussed what employee engagement is and then why stories can influence it.