How to Use Powerful Stories to Engage Employees

I have always loved John P. Kotter’s book The Heart of Change and the significant statement he made with, “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Sharing stories is an amazing way to show people the truth in any organization. When stories are well publicized they help influence people’s feelings and impact their beliefs, which in turn reinforces desired behavioral change and results.

Think of the times you have heard of the nameless Dutch boy who saved the day by putting his finger in the dyke. A short tale highlighting one person’s heroic and simple act that saved the day.

Stories Help Change People

We don’t hear of too many tales in today’s workplace, which become legends that change people.

It’s hard for C-suite leaders to both initiate connections and stay connected with all of their employees. They have a hard time being visible and available to employees. Too many of these leaders are considered the “invisible minority” in their workplaces where workers have no relationship with them and trust is lacking to be fully connected.

The following true story exemplifies the life of one leader and how their actions have impacted the people they work with and their organization, and see their employees become exceptionally engaged and performance focused.

Let’s take a look at Tangerine company, formerly ING DIRECT Canada, a financial services organization with corporate offices set up in downtown Toronto. It is the legendary stories of their CEO, Peter Aceto, that drive Tangerine’s culture to be shared by everyone as well as producing desired results.

Peter Aceto strongly believes companies with the most engaged employees are the companies that truly perform over the long term. He also knows employee engagement is one thing he can have direct control over and needs to be high scoring in order to beat the competition.

Stories Are About Connecting

What is not common are the practices Aceto has put in place at Tangerine to stay connected with all their employees. “I actually spend an inordinate amount of my time on this particular matter”, says Aceto. “I spend a fair bit of my time connecting with people at all different levels of the organization”.

Besides his direct team that reports to him and the typical one-on-one and team meetings, Aceto holds regular town halls with departments. However, in addition to the en masse meetings, Aceto takes time out during regular lunch hours to simply sit in a room or cafeteria with staff, bring his own lunch, and talk business.

People love to share information with their CEO and have him as their senior leader available to just converse with on a more intimate level. Of course, a CEO needs to know what is going on in the organization. From these informal meetings with employees Aceto gains a lot of insight, which becomes a natural engagement measure that doesn’t have to wait until an annual survey is conducted. It just means getting out on the frontlines and mostly listening.

“I can learn an awful lot from them about what they know about the organization,” Aceto points out, “and I can judge how well their managers are doing in terms of our philosophy. We believe that every one of our employees needs to know as much about our business as possible, whether it appears relevant to his or her specific job or not”.  

Stories Take Time To Create

Getting to this level of leadership commitment requires time. When asked how much time Tangerine’s CEO actually spends on creating relationships and getting to know people throughout the organization, Aceto responded, “It is slightly more than 30 percent of my day. I spend about 20 percent in meetings, maybe 30 percent of my day doing stuff that’s, let’s say, ‘anti-social,’ like reading memos, writing documents, reading presentations. But pretty much every other interaction is relationship building”.

Entering meetings where Aceto is present reflects his desire to connect. For example, while there are always meeting agendas and time is carefully monitored; he makes sure to enjoy the camaraderie of the first five minutes of a meeting and connecting with people in the room. It’s apparent that Aceto loves learning about people.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, suggests leaders in todays world of information overload need to “be more human” if they are ever to stand out. I think the above accounts of Peter Aceto become the power stories employees draw upon in becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

A fundamental quality of authentic leaders has to be the ability to connect with people at all levels of the organization. Peter Aceto not only enjoys doing this and makes the time to do so, but he is very aware that connecting with people is an important investment.

Find the stories of your leaders, whether with title or not, and do all you can to retell these accounts to influence the attitudes and behaviors of your employees.

Question: How are you capitalizing on the power of stories in your organization?

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