10 May

Tell the Story to Inspire Engagement

Adapted from Kindra Hall’s The Story Edge: How Leaders Harness the Power of Stories to Win in Business

Something has changed at work. You no doubt have felt it, especially if you lead a team. In the past, ambitious new hires would ask for promotions nearly as soon as their cubicle was assigned. Now man- agers have to actively seek out and convince employees it’s time to move up (and many decline). In one survey of over one thousand HR employees, “45 percent said their organization has struggled more than usual to motivate employees to work beyond the required scope of their job in the past six months.” The reason for this decline in motivation and productivity? Economists are pointing to worker disengagement as a major factor.

Major and majorly expensive; when an employee leaves, that’s when the organization really starts to pay. Gallup reported that voluntary turnover costs US companies $1 trillion per year (and that was being conservative). To fill the gaps in their teams, Statista reported companies spent anywhere from forty-six to seventy-two hours training a single new employee in 2022, while Oracle claims that even after all that training, “on average, it takes a new hire one to two years to reach the productivity of an existing employee.” Not to mention the hit to morale and its impact on future performance.

Perhaps you’ve heard the logic that hate isn’t the opposite of love, indifference is . . . and it seems across industries, organizations are dealing with workforces that don’t “hate” their jobs—they just don’t really care anymore.

Herein lies one of the biggest opportunities of the modern leader: figure out how to engage, or re-engage, or keep engaged your team . . . and the rest all gets easier. Those organizations with engaged employees enjoy benefits including, but not limited to: improved morale, retained institutional knowledge, improved productivity, improved corporate culture and customer experience, and better employee engagement/satisfaction. All of these factors, in turn, help to optimize revenue, create a better brand reputation and a more positive company culture, and build a highly skilled workforce.

In short, today’s leaders must not only produce but also engage. So how does a leader inspire engagement?

You’ll be shocked by the answer, I’m sure . . .

Tell the stories.

Kindra Hall with her book The Story Edge

The Secret of Engagement: Story Fluency

In 2018, inspired by a study designed to test resilience in youth based on how many stories they knew of their family’s history, my team created a similar study that explored the correlation between an employee’s “story fluency” (how many stories they knew of their leaders and company history) and various aspects that impact thriving organizations and teams, including employee engagement.

We administered a national survey to 1,000 full-time US employees ranging from eighteen to sixty-five years old. Of those surveyed who measured as Story Fluent, meaning they knew many stories about their leaders and company, 81.2 percent of them also reported being active or engaged in their company’s purpose, cause, culture, and team.

Yes. Those employees who had been told the stories were the also the employees most engaged.

Said another way: The more stories they knew, the more engaged the employees were.

It makes sense. Now more than ever, people want to feel connected to and inspired by and find meaning in the work they do. They want to feel aligned with the values of the company and what it stands for. Unfortunately, “all too often leaders assume that if they continually recite their organization’s values, the words will take on an incantatory power, and employees will fall under their spell, almost like zombies.”
You do not want zombies working for you. You want engaged, inspired (and alive) people. In order to achieve that, leaders must be telling the stories that are behind the values. Or the stories of those values in action.

In my firm’s 2018 research study, the survey questions included:

  • Do you know the story of how the company you work for started/came to be?
  • Do you know if the company you work for has ever faced challenges or setbacks in its history?

Our results revealed that participants who answered yes to those two questions alone were 40 percent more likely to affirm “the work we do at the company makes a difference in the world.”

Two stories! Just knowing those two stories meant experiencing more meaning in the work they do.
If you’re a leader who’s been trying to figure out how to overcome the Zombie-Employment-Apocalypse and the apathy that is threatening to destroy the modern workplace, a story needs to be told.

Hardcover and paperback of The Story Edge

In The Story Edge, Kindra Hall provides a holistic approach to innovation, connection, and problem-solving that has no expiration date.