As we explored in my last blog post, advocating for employees builds trust as a manager and creates an environment where employees thrive. We looked at the building blocks a manager needs in order to build strong relationships and gain trust with your team. Being an effective storyteller is one technique I’ve learned over my career to help me advocate for my employees. Storytelling isn’t just for acclaimed authors and illustrators, it’s an essential tool for success in business. Great storytelling is a skill that can be learned by anyone.
What does storytelling have to do with being an advocate for your employees? Well, suppose you have a rock star employee. You know that to keep them working for your company, they desire upward progression in their career — they want to be promoted! Promotions don’t manifest out of thin air. Oftentimes as a manager, you will need to put together the case for your employees promotion. What is a business case actually? It’s a story!
Let’s take asking for an employee promotion as an example for how to tell an effective story. Remember, great storytelling is a skill that can be learned by anyone. Let’s give it a try.
First things first: Know your audience
In order to tell the right story in business, you must first understand who your audience is. Who do you have to convince that your employee, let’s call her Betsy, is deserving of a promotion? Is it your direct manager, HR, or someone in the C-suite? Whether it’s your direct manager or a company executive, take the time to understand who they are and what motivates them. What do they need as a leader? Here’s a hint for C-suite executives – it’s almost always these 3 things:
- Make more money
- Improve efficiency
- Manage risk
Almost all decisions in business come back to these 3 core needs. If it doesn’t drive revenue with increased efficiency and the least amount of risk, most executives aren’t interested in hearing your pitch. So, what does getting Betsy promoted have to do with fulfilling these needs? Plenty!
Ask yourself, what is the cost of losing Betsy? It’s usually a higher cost than you think. Which leads me to my next point.
Get the Facts
When asking for a promotion for an employee, it’s important to know the value they bring to the organization. Certainly, you should be able to highlight the many wonderful contributions Betsy has made to your company. You should also be able to highlight the risk of Betsy leaving and what it would cost. Attrition isn’t free. It bears a high cost to organizations through loss of productivity, recruitment costs, likely requiring a higher salary for whomever you hire, training/onboarding costs. All of these things add up. Especially when you lose a high performer. So, do your research.
- Find postings for similar jobs online. What are these companies paying?
- How many postings are there in your area for similar jobs? If you’re in tech, this is usually a pretty easy search on indeed.
- How does Betsy measure up to the online job postings? Are her skills/talents in high demand?
- What unique value does Betsy bring to your organization? How does Betsy contribute to the bottomline that will make losing her a burden to your company?
Once you’ve done your research, start to craft your story on why Betsy needs to be promoted. I usually use the following outline:
- Betsy’s Accomplishments
- Market Analysis – who’s hiring and for how much
- Risk of doing nothing (what happens if Betsy were to leave)
- Recommendation – The Ask
Keep your story clear and concise. Stick to the facts at hand. I’ve always liked this saying when it comes to presenting to leaders: Be brief. Be bright. Be gone.
In other words, keep it short and simple.
Finish with The Ask
Every good story in business ends with an ask. What action do you want taken? I learned this lesson while working in a marketing department. Having spent my entire career in IT, I knew very little about marketing. It was always a department filled with whimsy, in my mind. Little did I know, that marketing is really a fact driven organization determined to use facts to root out and tell compelling stories. I found it fascinating. When I first landed in marketing, I struggled when presenting to executives. My boss could see I was having a hard time, so she helped me learn how to tell a story. She ingrained in my head that you always end your presentation with an ask. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to make your ‘ask’ crystal clear.
The ask, in this case, is to get Betsy promoted. So, end your story asking for exactly that. Don’t beat around the bush about it. Ask.
What’s the worst that will happen? They say no. Then, you continue to refine your story until you get to a yes.
There are so many resources on telling stories in business. Great storytelling is a skill that can be learned by anyone. Here’s a few resources I’ve found to be useful:
- Harvard Business Review: Great Storytelling Connects Employees to Their Work https://hbr.org/2017/09/great-storytelling-connects-employees-to-their-work
- Kindra Hall: Stories that Stick https://www.amazon.com/Stories-That-Stick-Storytelling-Captivate-ebook/dp/B07KF2328Z
- Who is better at storytelling than Pixar? Khan Academy offers Pixar in a Box detailing how Pixar tells great stories. There are so many lessons here that can be applied to business storytelling! https://www.khanacademy.org/computing/pixar/storytelling/we-are-all-storytellers/v/storytelling-introb
- Use the Story Spine method from Kenn Adams: https://www.curiographic.com/blog/2017/2/18/jumpstart-your-story-with-the-story-spine
- Forbes.com: Storytelling Best practices https://www.forbes.com/sites/danabrownlee/2019/11/16/storytelling-best-practices-to-increase-your-workplace-influence/?sh=5e30cd007b6c
This week I challenge you to use storytelling to ask for something. The more you practice, the more you’ll hone this skill! Leave a note below on a story you told and how it worked out.
Until Next time,
We’d love to hear from you!
If you’d like to share a story or have a question, reach out to me here.