Start Gathering Your Pandemic Stories – They're Important Learnings.
— July 1st, 2021
How many stories have you told today? How many have you heard? Chances are, it’s more than a few.
From talking about your weekend to sharing a video conference fail, most humans tell stories all day long, and for good reason.
Let’s take a look at why stories matter and some key things your organization can be doing now to find and preserve your stories from the pandemic.
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All organizations have stories, even start-ups. In fact, for most start-ups, they are the story. The most basic kind of organizational story is the origin story. How did Richard Branson start an airline? Why did Tony Hsieh give up pizza to sell shoes? What did AirBNB’s founders do to turn a binder full of credit cards into a $30-billion category killer?
Organizations also tell stories about successes, failures, employees, customers and achievements. Even the day-to-day rumors and gossip that swirl around the workplace are a form of storytelling.
In the strange world of a pandemic, however, we see new types of stories emerging. Organizations are talking now about how they are helping, surviving, adapting, reinventing, caring and even thriving. When the pandemic ends, we’ll be seeing stories about emerging, recovering, and creating.
Wired for stories
Human beings have been telling each other stories since we invented language 100,000 years ago.
Long before the first cave painters showed up to do a bit of decorating 27,000 years ago, we were learning from stories passed down and repeated in an oral tradition that continues to this day in many cultures.
Stories work because they trigger neurochemical reactions. For example, when we hear a story with suspense or a surprise, our brain releases dopamine, which is great for motivation, focus, and energy.
When we hear stories that involve vulnerability or empathy, we get a nice hit of oxytocin, which makes us feel generous and gives us a sense of belonging and trust.
Funny stories release those feel-good endorphins that fuel creativity, focus and retention, which is a great antidote to those other workplace neurochemicals such as the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline.
By tapping into our preference for stories, communicators can increase understanding and build trust in leaders and the organization by showing how we responded to the crisis.
One story currently making the rounds is what Sprinklr CEO and Founder, Ragy Thomas told employees early in the pandemic:
“We have one, integrated life. Your children are a part of it. Your dog is a part of it. Your friends are a part of it. I want you to give yourself permission to be you. If you need to take care of your child, do it. If you need to walk your dog, do it. Give yourself permission to take the artificial boundary of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. away.”
In addition to adding enormous credibility to the company’s claims about its culture and management, this story will also help attract and retain talent for years to come.
Six COVID stories
Now is the time to start collecting your organization’s COVID chronicles.
- Employee stories: How did your organization help employees learn to work differently? Did you offer support for some of the mental challenges employees are facing? Did you help those caring for sick or vulnerable family members?
- Community stories: Did your organization help out with donations? Did executives donate their salaries to fight COVID-19? Did you re-tool to meet new community needs?
- Customer stories: Many organizations helped customers by reducing prices, waiving fees, offering free support or deferring payments.
- Survival stories: Some organizations needed to find news of working to survive. How did your teams work together to get through the darkest days?
- Change stories: What changed in the way you do business? How did remote teams collaborate? How did you accommodate the quickly changing landscape?
- Tough reality stories: For many, the pandemic brought lay-offs, salary cuts, project cancellations, and big revenue hits. Now is the time to get to the human side of the trauma and the triumph.
To get started collecting your stories, put someone in charge of gathering and categorizing them. Go through your chat rooms, emails, town halls, and surveys to surface the stories that will build your brand narrative for many years to come.
Ask frontline managers to tell their team’s stories or invite employees to share each other’s triumphs and challenges.
By the way, a storytelling workshop is a great team-building exercise for communicators and executives and a terrific way to signal the importance of stories in your organization’s narrative.