As a leader, you always need people to understand your HR messages – and accept what you propose.
Yet many HR leaders fail to get their point across and gain quick credibility because they muddy the message.
“Telling a compelling story is how you build credibility for yourself and your ideas,” says Jeff Gothelf, a business coach and author of Forever Employable and Sense & Response. “Whether you need to win over a colleague, a team, an executive, a recruiter or an entire conference audience, effective storytelling is key.”
Vivid, true, relatable stories help others see the importance in the message you want to convey. They also prompt others to respond in ways you need them to.
Gothelf shares these tips for effective storytelling:
1. Gear it to your audience
Think about – or flat out ask – what your audience is interested in, concerned about and motivated by. That way, you can build a story that appeals to them specifically.
For instance, if you need employees to get on board with a new process, you’ll want to know if they’re more worried about change or the time it’ll take to learn the process. Or you might need to figure out if they’re more excited about using new technology or the ability to finish a task faster.
Keep in mind: If your HR messages affect different groups of people – employees, colleagues, customers – you might need to create stories focused toward each.
2. Paint with broader strokes
Most people’s first reaction to HR messages is, “What’s in it for me?” But they can’t fully understand the effects on them if they don’t also see the broader effects on team structure, department goals or the company’s future.
Add that context – why it’s important and where it’s coming from – to help people believe and accept.
So in the example of changing processes, you’d want to include background on why you do it as you do now and the vision for the better future.
3. Humanize the story
Even when you focus on the audience and the big picture, many people will still only hear the business side (and dislike it because of that).
So you want to include a personal element that stirs emotions and makes the bridge between people and policy.
Share a personal story about a time you faced a strange new situation, your fears and the outcome. If you can infuse humor, even better. For instance, Gothelf says he gets a laugh every time he tells about his six-month stint in the circus, where he had to build relationships with a human cannonball and learn and integrate into a new, strange culture.
4. Call for action
Leaders sometimes get excited about good HR messages or overwhelmed by bad messages. They might make it too big, talking about vast improvements, sweeping changes or major hurdles. Then people get overwhelmed or excited and have no idea where to start.
Instead, ask for specific, immediate actions and give people practical advice. For example, tell them when training on the new process will be and ask them to read pretraining materials and take the assessment test by Friday.
5. Stay humble
Tell the audience about a past fail, your role and what you learned.
“Nothing creates a tighter connection between you and your audience than acknowledging that you’re standing on others’ shoulders, and you’re not going to get everything right all the time,” Gothelf says in the Harvard Business Review.