Using storytelling to create culture and spark creativity

With the rise of new technology, working from home policies and hot desking, the sense of a team driven by being together every day has eroded. With an ever-increasing threat to a loss of company culture, organisations must be responsible for bringing their employees together to nurture a physical sense of belonging and purpose. As a leader, it is important to take the team together through experiences and storytelling.

Company culture is created by the people you employ, an inspiring office environment and work filled with meaning and purpose. You cannot create culture. However, you can nurture it, direct it and give it some love. Ultimately, it's driven by your leadership. Part of leadership is making sure that all employees within an organisation know how they can be successful, what the vision of the company is and why they are here. It's imperative to the success of the business and a happy working culture.

Story structure: Authentic, interactive and emotional

Every great story should be authentic, allow your audience to interact and also provide a response. Your company story must be as clear to a new employee as it is to an employee who has been with the company for years. It must allow them to be part of it and it should make them feel an emotion.

From the moment an employee walks through the door for the first time, they need to know they’ve joined the right company and that you care about their individual role and their contribution they can make. The small things, such as someone’s first day and their induction into the company, are often overlooked. Take the new joiners through your story to ensure that everyone understands what the company values are. It is important to provide complete clarity about what builds a successful career from the start.

With the threat of company culture being eroded due to the increase of mobile working, there is a risk of neglecting the office space itself. At AKQA, we want employees and guests alike to have an ‘Instagram moment’ as soon as they arrive. We replaced the uninspiring TV show reel in reception with a commissioned piece of modern art; a poem about AKQA created in lights called ‘The Future is an Invisible Playground’ by Robert Montgomery, a local sculptor and poet. The office environment is created by the people within it however, if the building is uninspiring then the potential for uninspiring work can emerge. 

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On the other hand, organisations have been found guilty of focusing too heavily on new starters and forgetting existing members of the team. Word of mouth can either make or break an organisation and a high employee turnover rate eradicates all sense of a company culture.

Frequent recognition, if someone is doing a good job, cannot be valued too highly - don’t simply wait for their annual review to give them feedback and leave them wondering where their value lies for a period of months.

Read more: Stories vs Storytelling

Secondly, with the growing popularity of flexible working and the ease with which we can now work remotely, shared experiences are the one thing that help make people feel like they belong. A family that eats together, stays together – so get a monthly lunch or breakfast in the diary and help your team to bond.

Encouraging passions within your workforce is imperative. People are about more than just their job – things inspire them outside of work and if you encourage them to embrace these hobbies and interests - through gestures such as allowing a late start/early finish, for example - they will be more likely to deliver good work, simply because they recognise you understand them as a human being, rather than a machine programmed to hit deadlines.

Finally, surprise and delight; it’s not about grand gestures, but the small touches that make employees feel valued. The small touches add up; these are the things your employees will share with their family, friends and peers, and will see them much more likely to speak highly of the company and its ethos. 

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Remove the blinkers

In telling your company story, a big splash at one big meeting or event isn’t the most effective strategy. It's about how you tell your story in a number of small ways, consistently over time, and how every move you make as a business embodies your brand values.

A singular voice within a company is fatal. Setting up multiple communication channels, each one dedicated to tell different aspects of your story, will increase conversation and ultimately, creativity. Utilise both digital and physical, anonymous and personal channels. These channels are great indications of the health of your culture, and help you to address the smallest things that matter the most to your teams. They also provide a level of transparency and access that employees expect today from a company.

Even though all of your employees share the journey of the company together, each employee has their own personal tale to tell. Therefore, as a leader you should feel free to encourage all employees to tell their own stories, to inspire one another. Whether it’s a ‘lunch and learn’ about photography, or a charity initiative they were recently involved in – teams can learn a lot from one another, and this personal development can have a really positive impact on day-to-day work and productivity.

Immersing into a brand story is vital, however, it is essential for the company to not get entrenched in a single-minded approach. Exploring other personal and collective stories from within the same industry and further afield is significant in broadening the cultural mindset of your employees. At least once a week, if you can, bring the whole company together – for a morning breakfast, a guest speaker, or a business update at the end of each month. Regardless of how large or small the event may be, bringing the team together is a great way of boosting company morale.

Ultimately, to successfully implement storytelling in your business to spark creativity, you must be clear on what you, as a company, value and what your values are. Provide complete clarity on how employees can have a long and successful career with you. AKQA’s three metrics to encourage a happy working culture are as relatable and easily understood as the work they help to inspire: the creation of genre-redefining work that makes a cultural impact; encouraging positive feedback from audiences and clients; contributing to the career development of our colleagues. Ultimately, through frequent recognition, shared experiences, encouraging passions, and surprise and delight, you will be sure to encourage a positive and creative working environment.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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