HR professionals need to perfect the same storytelling skills as sales professionals. After all, in selling the executive team’s philosophies and policies, they have to engage and persuade an oftentimes cynical crowd.
Start with what not to do. Don’t model the story being told by Bright Bank (name changed to protect the guilty). Bright recently bought out Elegant Bank (another name change for the same reason). They merged operations and staff three weeks ago, and customers have been plunged into a new form of hell ever since:
- Inability to gain access to their accounts
- Transactions that did not transfer
- Online bill pay that’s nonfunctional
- ACH and transfer history lost
- Conflicting answers to questions
- Massive overload on their “customer service” lines, producing waiting time beyond an hour
So how did bank agents handle their “merger story”? During each of more than a half a dozen calls to their “support” desk, here’s the “story” I heard from various agents:
- “Sorry, but we’re doing the best we can.”
- “Look, it’s as bad for us as for you customers!”
- “We know there are problems. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can. But everybody’s calling us, so it might take a week or two.”
- “I gave you the best answer I can. If the previous person told you something else, well…I don’t know. That’s the latest answer we have now. They keep changing things. Try calling back in a few days and ask somebody else.”
Seriously. That’s the party line now. And worse, they have TV commercials “welcoming” customers of the acquired bank to “superior service.”
So what do this bank’s woes have to do with you in HR? You too have to tell your “brand” story (translation: your leadership team’s story) when that story doesn’t match the reality employees see.
Consider three essentials when walking that fine line of telling a persuasive story while gaining employee trust that you have their best interests at heart.
3 Essentials in Telling Your Story Persuasively
Put aside the idea that your pitch should be polished to perfection. To outside stakeholders, yes. But not with employees. Instead, go for authenticity via:
When you passionately believe in an idea, you can “sell it” all day. So launching off into a canned example, case study, or anecdote to build your case comes across as insincere.
If you believe that the new custodian for your organization’s 401(k)s is a good change, say so in your own words. Use an example familiar to you. Wrap the party line in your personal observations, not those canned stories and slogans that some copywriter has plastered all over your website.
Don’t narrate the story. Tell it. Set the scene and use someone’s actual words as you add illustrations and examples to build your case.
Narrating: “During our IT conference last week, Tom Smith brought up the subject of our changing custodians for the company’s 401(k)s. Several voiced mixed opinions about the change. But overall, everyone seemed to agree that the change was a good one.”
Telling: “During our IT conference last week, the subject of our changing custodians for the company’s 401(k)s came up. For a few minutes, I feared we might see a fist-fight break out with people slinging around differing opinions.”
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- “This change makes no sense at all.”
- “I love the fact that we have so many more investment options!”
- “I had a terrible time just getting customer service to send me the enrollment packet.”
- “They rank high on customer-service. I’ve read the reviews.”
- “But the overall, winning opinion came from Jerrod Smith: ‘The company’s match is going up to 6%. Who wants to complain about that?’”
Do you see the extra dimension dialogue adds?
You’ve heard it said that people believe their own data. Well, the storyteller’s corollary is this: People pay more attention when they’re following their own path — not yours. Illustrations, stories, and examples will more likely gain attention when you “spin off” comments from other people.
That is not to say that you should address a group of employees without being prepared. By all means, know the message you need to deliver, the persuasive points, and the anecdotes that will ensure clarity and buy-in.
But be flexible enough to change your structure. For example, after Kelly asks a question, you might respond with “I’m glad you’ve asked about that because just last Tuesday, one of our managers in Boise told me that…”
Switching that anecdote from your planned sequence to your current response to Kelly lands a stronger punch.
Transition with intention.
When you sell your organization’s story to insiders, master the essentials that generate trust.