Storytelling: A Key HR Competency?

by Michael Haberman on September 14, 2011 · 2 comments

No this is not a post on ethics, I don’t mean the “lie” kind of storytelling. I mean the kind of storytelling that inspires, moves and connects with us. We all like a good story. Human history is replete with good stories and good story tellers. As children we could not wait for mom or dad to read us a good story. As we got older and enjoyed reading we like good stories and of course the movies that tell a great story become major moneymakers. So if it works so well why should storytelling be suspended as we walk through the office door? I am for storytelling being a key HR compentency.

I got this idea from a blog post I read that had nothing to do with human resources. It was called The One Essential Key to Developing Your Social Media Influence. The author, Joshua Leatherman, says “The greatest predictor of social media success is also the most challenging to master; it is the ability to tell a story well in very few words.” He went on to say

Those who succeed in social media, those who have the ability to influence the behavior of others, are master storytellers.  They have learned how to graft powerful words together that pique emotion, stimulate a need, elicit a vision, and produce engagement.

BINGO! The bell went off in my head and I thought HR! Pique emotion, stimulate a need, elicit a vision and produce engagement are wonderful ways to attract and attach and retain workers. Tell them a compelling story to attract them, to help satisfy a need, to get them to see what the organization is about and to get them engaged in their work. And since more and more of us use social media I thought this topic dovetailed quite well.

The question then becomes “how do you develop good storytelling skills?” I am open for answers on this question. But here are some of my suggestions:

  • Read good stories. Fiction, non-fiction, blogs, articles, news. They all involve the ability to tell a story. Did something grab your attention? What was it? Why did you find it compelling?
  • If you have an opportunity take a creative writing class, whether you think you can write or not. You will be able to do bit better when you are done.
  • Take a journalism class, in fact I think this should be required in all HR degree programs.
  • Take a class on being a stand up comedian. All comedians are storytellers. One of my favorite was an old Borscht Belt comedian named Myron Cohen. He was a favorite of Johnny Carson. I am not Jewish, so I did not really relate to the stories he told but he told them so well I would still laugh. Here is a sample of his work. Watch Myron Cohen

So think about how you can incorporate a story into your talent acquisition and your employee communication. Perhaps you will find it pays major dividends and you just may have some fun with it too.

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Yu Yu Din September 15, 2011 at 12:07 am

Mike, excellent thought provoking post as always.
The book, “Fish!” came to my mind when I read this. That’s the first book I’ve heard about that was cool to read that had something to do with management and managing people. Slowly, I think we’re moving to the age of story telling not just ‘information’. We’re all over loaded with content and information that if you don’t make something interesting, people are not going to pay attention. That includes HR stories.


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