Once upon a time in HR

Storytelling in Human Resources Management

Once I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book called, True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal.
In the book it said: “Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion.”
I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded by making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked something like this:
I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups and asked them whether the drawning frightened them.
But they answered: “Frighten? Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?”
- La petit prince

We are surrounded by stories! Not only as little children but as grown-ups, we are surrounded by stories. The story of Snow white and The Little Prince is now transformed into daily stories from our professional and personal life. And somehow these stories are vital to the way we perceive the world!

“Stories bring people of different backgrounds and mindsets to a common point of reflection”
— Erlin Mike, Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand, Cornerstone onDemand

Storytelling is a communication tool; it helps us interact with others and pass along messages of great importance in ways that they could be easily be understood by the audience. It’s goal is the listener’s engagement and emotional connection to the message in order to act in a specific way.

In our everyday communication, when we present data or make a sale, we tend to leave emotion behind for objectivity and rationale to step forward. Unfortunately, without the emotional speech, whatever we might say or do, would never become a part of us and be remembered afterwards. Still, through stories the narrator could easily capture the audience’s attention. Likewise, stories work as a passage to reality with the use of comparisons and metaphors. They are examples and adaptations of what we think, how we feel or act. The goal here is for the listener to be moved into action, after he sees himself into the hero’s shoes.

“We tend to like those whom we perceive as being like us, and we are more likely to say yes to them. How do we make people perceive us as being like them? By telling stories that accelerate our similarities in a strategic, authentic way.”
— Esther K. Choy, author of the book “Let the story do the work: the Art of storytelling for business success” (2017)

The key features of every single story is to inspire, motivate, connect, educate and reinforce. In order for the above to happen, the narrative must be passionate and radiate confidence. A story is not a series of events on a milestone. Those are facts! Not interesting, engaging or motivating! A story is how you set up questions and expectations. You need to know yourself the questions you want to answer and how you will do it. Then start pulling a story together asking yourself:

  1. What do you want your audience to know?
  2. How do you want them to feel?
  3. What do you want them to do?

Every good story, in business or not, should have a solid ground of knowledge, emotional connection, motivation and final action based on the knowledge gained. Know the questions and the answers, ask the questions and make them relevant to your audience’s perceptions and reality. Why should they care about what you are telling them? Remember: when you have a question, you are engaged. When you get an answer, you are convinced. And that’s what this is all about!

The power of a story as a HRM tool

Storytelling has emerged in a numerous aspects of the modern digital life. From marketing and sales, business strategy and decision making, to recruitment and data analysis. Through stories people open a door to a new world, a new perspective and create a new framework with which to approach their own story.

Human Resources can take advantage of storytelling in matters of employer branding, talent acquisition and people analytics.

Employer Branding

Business storytelling is a useful tool that expands communication beyond boundaries. Its effects are easily seen in employer branding strategies. According to wikipedia, Employer Branding is the term commonly used to describe an organization’s reputation as an employer, and its value proposition to its employees, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to its customers.

Today’s Employer Branding focuses both on external and internal communication. It is as important to tell and share your organization’s story with your current and future employees, as it is to your customers. Storytelling is the key to attract new talent, retain your employees and engage them both. Its simple: tell them a compelling story to attract them, build a business case to show them what the organization is all about and get them engaged in their work.

“Share your business story with future candidates. Take the next step and stop talk about benefits,tell the story beyond. Find the moment when the idea became a brand for your organization”, Matt Charney says. Avoid the classic milestone of business events. What do you think of infographics, instead? Go personal and add any achievements and top moments of your organization.

Personal stories of your employees experiences and day-to-day work can be a stepping stone, too! Every organization is its people! Your employees are your brand ambassadors and they are story tellers! Go social with their unique stories and share memorials, thank you posts, achievements, photos or videos of teams. Always keep in mind, that a happy employee is a happy and engaged story teller who tells the most amazing stories.

Talent Acquisition

One of the main roles of each HR department is talent acquisition aka how to attract talents into your company. As the world goes more and more digital new methods of talent attraction have entered the HR tactics.

With more than 60% of the workforce being millennials by the year 2020, recruiters search for talents on social media. But, how do you attract a millennial candidate to your company? Storytelling on Social Media is the answer you are looking for.

People buy from people, Matthew Jeffery, VP Head Global Sourcing and Employer Brand at SAP, states. As in sales you put customer experience above all, why not do the same with your candidate experience?! Treat your candidates as your customers and show them they would be the perfect fit for your company. Todays job candidates want more! They want to know in advance how it would be like working in your company. What their day would be like? What projects they would be part of? How they could grow and have an impact if working for you? Showcase the facts that differentiate you from your competitors. Invest on the context and content and share stories that have an pulling and irresistible effect on candidates. Find emotional points of reference and connect to sale that position.

“Great content makes you want to care, share or swear” — Sarah Evans

The secret on social media is to know your target group and try to attract them by addressing to them in their own language and referral points. Don’t afraid to be creative and go viral with job ads that are narrow focused on a single group of candidates. After all that is the kind of employee you are looking for, right? Finally, invest in personalized forms of contact with your candidates and elevate their experience, even on this primary level of communication i.e. personalised emails. Be true and nothing will scare you!

People Analytics

People analytics, also known as talent analytics or HR analytics, refers to the method of analytics that can help managers and executives make decisions about their employees or workforce. People analytics applies statistics, technology and expertise to large sets of talent data, which results in making better management and business decisions for an organization.

According to studies our brain is wired to remember stories more easily than data and numbers. When we are told a story we connect both emotionally and intellectually with the events that take place and the heroes, helping us retain memories of the story for much longer.

The moment we hear a story change and action are inspired. Big data and analytics are here to help us in matters of strategy and decision making. By applying the storytelling technique to data analysis, data’s value becomes aware from a bigger audience, not just the math geeks.

Storytelling in people analytics is mostly about presenting the data to your audience. The HR analyst is responsible for creating content and tell the story the data depict. He should no talk straight statistics, but rather try to explain the data with the use of a general business language. After he has completed the necessary research, he needs to put together and present the story in a way that makes sense and concern everyone in the crowd.

Take a step back and plan your plot. Start your narrative setting up your characters and story settings. Think for a moment, what are your audience’s perceptions? Tailor made your story to them. Begin strongly, expressing your central question. Then smoothly present the problem. Show do not tell! Use multimedia side by side with your data and let your audience come to conclusions on their own.

It is of great importance to start your narrative focusing on the human element of the story. Start with the impact your central question would have on your audience’s key interests. And then, when you will have captured their interest and attention, bring the numbers in. End your narrative proposing possible solutions to the problem presented before. Try to answer your initial question and prompt people to action. Finish your story as strongly as you started it!

In general, try to personalise the story so that everyone could identify themselves with the problem and the solutions you propose. Keep in mind what your goal is: to communicate the need for change effectively and encourage action.


A story never goes out of style! Modern business storytellers, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi, Ellen Degeneres, are here to remind us of that! With stories we can not only sell a product more effectively, but also attract and retain employees, elicit a vision, produce engagement, facilitate change management and influence culture. Employees are happy and more productive. The communication gap between the different levels of organization starts to close and decision making is prompt to better understandable data that have a meaning to everyone.

And they lived happily ever after!

The end,

— Aggeliki

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