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Engage them through storytelling

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

When talking with employees, you need to help them understand why they should engage—why they’re there —beyond earning a paycheck. That requires a reason, and a reason is best conveyed through a story.

In ancient Greece, people gathered every year to watch plays about their history interwoven with various mythical tales. Sharing those dramas became a community affair. Today, people bond over Sunday sermons and swap opinions over their favorite TV dramas.

Recorded stories do have power— in film, video, newsletters, audio and online—but nothing beats a story told live. For one thing, storytelling engenders listening. “Creation stories” carry powerful meaning: whether it’s how Southwest Airlines went about making travel affordable for the masses or how Starbucks insisted on providing its barristas with a health care safety net.

Even new companies use “folklore days” to pass along their early experiences. Eastman Chemical gathers people in a circle without a table, while CapitalOne lights a “virtual campfire.” Other organizations favor skits. It’s especially important to celebrate retirees and let them tell their stories.

Why all this communing over a story? Because leaders can strengthen their employees’ social ties to build trust, which builds companies. As Babe Ruth said, “You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

—Adapted from In Good Company, Don Cohen and Laurence Prusak, Harvard Business School Press.

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