Employee engagement initiatives — especially ones that involve values — can only go so far when they are simply driven down from the top. At best, they are perceived by the entire community as gee-wouldn’t-it-be-nice academic exercise. At worst, they are received as inauthentic mandates from a leadership team that just doesn’t get what’s really going on. When this type of communication only flows one way, you risk “culture shift,” according to Stacey Clark Ohara, senior director, Employee Communication, for Juniper Networks. It’s the experience of the employees, and the stories they tell about their experiences, that really keep the culture on track, she notes.
Storytelling at Juniper began when new leadership reaffirmed its commitment to the company’s values, which are known as the Juniper Way: trust, respect, humility, integrity and excellence, she says.
“At that point we needed a way to freshly align our culture with who we aspired to be as a company,” said Ohara. “And we chose storytelling as the best way to inspire, inform and align the organization.”
Ohara said that given the personal and cultural risks inherent in telling stories, Juniper chose to start at the top, inviting the best storytellers among the executive ranks to model how stories could be shared. From that point forward, others are inspired by the emotional impacts of how the stories reflect the Juniper Way in action.
While stories are told in a variety of contexts, using any number of communications vehicles, Ohara’s team chose videos as the format for capturing and sharing executive stories. And she offered these suggestions for successfully gathering and sharing stories with the people in your culture:
- Get executives on board. When they are willing to share their experiences through storytelling, others will be more likely to take the risk as well.
- Find the natural storytellers among your employees and recruit them first.
- Give your people time to prepare and rehearse their stories –- but not so much that over-rehearsal causes the stories to sound wooden and inauthentic.
- Keep the stories short.
- Keep the videos shorter. Just a few minutes is all that’s needed to get the main message across.
- Be clear about your purpose. Naturally, you won’t know if you’re successful unless you know what results you’re after. When you’re asking employees to open up and speak from their hearts, they’ll also want to know what the hoped-for outcome will be.
- Start small and build from there. If you’re just initiating this venture in a culture where stories haven’t been typically told, make the initial scope and objectives set as modest as you can. This will keep the process from becoming overwhelmed by overblown expectations.
Image credit, EDHAR, via Shutterstock