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In This Episode

  • How we can instantly be more effective when we’re trying to communicate a new HR project, update, campaign, material, etc. to our employees.
  • Overview of what Storytelling for HR is, how to implement, and how to easily add it into your HR practice with just a 10 second pause.
  • Who the Hero, Guide, and Villain are now – and who they should be when we want to build connection and drive action with our people.


(00:00): Effective marketing messages follow the story telling for HR framework. For the most part, we just need to take some time to identify the hero, the guide, and the villain for each HR communication that we make in order for it to be instantly more successful. I'm Melissa Anzman, HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide and I struggled to move the needle even after trying everything under the sun. Fast forward past many failed tactics and lessons learned and you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters, work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step by step strategies to help you make an impact.

(01:05): If you're an HR leader or one on the rise, he's looking to stop spinning your wheels doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results or you want to have a career, you love your in the right place. Let's get started today. I want to dive deep into a topic that may feel a little bit off topic when it comes to what's currently going on in the world. We're still in the middle of a pandemic. Things are still uncertain and up in the air and all of those things that we're dealing with. But today I want to pivot to talk about something that matters so much to HR professionals and it's about how we get back on track and that's all through the actions that we do. So today I want to dive deep into storytelling for HR. Now, if you've been in my sphere, if we've been friends in the HR world for a while, you'll know that I started talking about storytelling for HR in about 2016 so about four years ago I started talking about it and it was actually the name of one of the programs I had at the time.

(02:22): Um, and it was, that program was all about HR metrics and how to tell a story around the numbers, which is still super important. However, as I started talking to more HR professionals across the U S and Canada, I realized that the story we need to tell in HR is a lot bigger and more important than just the metrics. I know we all just clutched our pearls. I said something was more important than metrics and I love metrics. I know it's weird, but here's the thing. Telling the right story and telling it correctly is critical for our success in HR as leaders, as employees, as individual contributors, more than anything else, it's how we get ahead. It's how we create influence. It's how we get promoted, it's how our work get valued. So with that in mind, I'm going to dive deep into what I am redefining as storytelling for HR. Still the same thing but we've widened the lens to include not only metrics but the how we tell the story and the components. So let's dive in.

(04:24): So when we look more broadly about storytelling for HR in addition to metrics, it is about how we tell a story. One of my biggest pet peeves when I go to break down communications or understand what's not working in HR departments when I'm there to consult is the story we're telling them is like 90 times out of a hundred the reason why they need help. So right now we in HR are expected to be experts in so many different things while also doing our job with personnel items, with engagement items, with people, items with culture items and so on. And the problem is is we are not experts in everything just by nature. Being an expert in everything means you're an expert in just about nothing. And so while we have these great programs and ideas and processes and we tend to have some success with them when we carry them out, we're also then expected to communicate about them and share what's going on and tell our leaders and send emails out and postings on our intranet and so on.

(05:43): And when we do that, we're following guidelines or processes or words that don't make sense for the work that we're trying to do. So instead of us coming at our communications, like our corporate communications or public relations person is telling us how or following our corporate AAP guidelines that make every communication sounds so boring and dreadful. We're going to look at how we talk about HR things differently going forward. And there are times that I am going to push you that it makes sense to take a stand and this is one of them. So in order for us to be successful with our HR work, our story and our storytelling has to change. So in a traditional story, if you're looking at how people write novels or a play or you know, any type of thing that has a story, there are tends to be three different types of characters.

(06:47): Now, if you are a fan of, um, Donald Miller of the StoryBrand or, um, the art of, Oh, I'll put the link in. I can think of the name off the top of my head, but he, uh, has written a great book on this, on creating your characters. If you are a fan of reading about how to write, this is going to make sense for you. If not, don't worry, I'm going to break it down in a way that makes sense that you can take it and keep it as you move forward. So in traditional storytelling, we have three different characters. We have the hero, we have the guide, and we have the villain. Now, the hero is the person who we root for from the sidelines. It's usually why we read the book. They're the person that we may see ourselves in that we want to see them overcome.

(07:37): And when they are the backbone of the story and of achieving success. The second character that we have is the guide. And this could be a narrator or the all-knowing person in the background who just happens to be everywhere at all times telling us what's happening, keeping the hero on track, leading us through the story step by step. And finally we have the villain. Now the villain is the bad guy. And in traditional stories it's kind of obvious who the bad guy is. Like dark Vader for example. And no, I haven't seen any of those movies. So I use that example without knowing context, but I know he is a villain. He is the bad guy, at least in the beginning, original series. So for some stories the Velon is pretty obvious, but in most stories, especially like if you get to a more complicated or robust stories, it's not usually the guy who's bad or one versus the other.

(08:42): This could be external influences, it could be a bad situation or circumstance that has to be overcome. The villain is the negative thing. That's sort of the low point or the DEP. For our hero. So these are the three characters. Now when we write for HR right now we are not consciously most of us thinking about these three characters. And so what we have is a total breakdown in the communication because we try to break the expected norms. So currently when we think about the hero, when HR writes communications, we write it from the perspective of us in HR being the hero. We are the ones who are trying to achieve our desired outcomes, goals and actions. We're saying like do this for me, like HR is doing this. Come on board, do it for me. We need to hit our numbers. We want you to know it's all about us in HR.

(09:46): And when we think about that for our employee, why are they rooting HR on? Why do they need us to be the hero? They don't and that's why they stop listening to what it is we're saying and ignore us or don't respond or take our desired actions or blame us for things because we are trying to tell them that we are the hero. Come be on our side, do for us. When, in fact, if we look at it through the correct lens of storytelling for HR, the hero is our employee. We want them to be the people who are taking the desired actions to be successful on their journey. And so how we do that is we think about not what we want them to do because who cares what HR wants to do. Truly. Instead we want to talk about why our employee is excited to take that action, why they have to listen to us.

(10:57): I used air quotes there, but why listening to us is going to lead them for their own success on their journey. So when we make our employee the hero of the story they're bought in, they clearly understand why they need to do something. So let me use a quick example here. I use it all the time because benefits, communications are, you know, the bread and butter of what my agency does. I love it. I nerd out about annual enrollment campaigns all the time. So many use that example. So in most instances when we're talking about annual enrollment or open enrollment and we're trying to encourage our employees to enroll in benefits or review their enrollments and benefits, how we talk to them as we say something like annual enrollment is open, please enroll or enroll by this date. No exceptions will be made or you now have options for annual enrollment.

(11:57): Be sure to enroll by this deadline or you won't have benefits. Interesting. Some of those may be have a little bit more HR hero in it than others, but the point is our employee is not at the center of the message for any of them. Why in the world would they care about any of those messages? They don't, and that's why we have so many people miss annual enrollment or we have to send a gazillion emails or we have a Rissa cases or what have you. Instead an annual enrollment communication that puts our employee as the hero, it would be about the benefit to them for taking action. So the communication may look something a little bit more like annual enrollment is open. It's your time of year to understand what your options are so that you can take care of the health and wellbeing of your family.

(12:54): This is a park that's offered as part of your employment here at ABC XYZ company. You have once a year opportunity from this state to that date to make an option. Now remember, if you don't take action during this annual enrollment window, you won't have access to this wonderful benefit or op like medical coverage or options for your family for the following year. Don't miss out. So this is off the top of my head. These aren't written statements and I do that on the fly because I want you to understand how easy it is to shift your mindset with this, but that example is a lot more about the employee and why they care. It's not about [inaudible] open take action. It's about why they want benefits, what's important to them for benefits, medical coverage, lower cost premiums, family coverage, like whatever that is. We want to be sure that our employee understands the connection to them and that they're the hero of what we're trying to get them to do.

(14:03): So that's the hero. HR is no longer the hero. Our employee is at the center of our story. The next character is the guide. So in addition of trying to be the hero, HR is also trying to be the guide. At the same time, we are trying to tell our employees what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when they need to accomplish it by all at the same time of saying, do it for me. Cause I said so. Now that's not going to be helpful for anybody. But the cool thing here is HR continues to be the guide in our ideal state of storytelling for HR. We are the experts and we are sort of that presence in the background floating above, showing our hero why getting to the end is important for their overall success. So we're guiding them, we're supporting them along their journey with a hero focus perspective.

(15:00): Now if you bring this back to a traditional, let's say fiction story or novel, the guide is the one that, it's like the fairy godmother they in, in, they're the ones who are sort of all knowing, kind of up there in the ether, telling us what to do, filling in some gaps, bringing us through. That's how we need to be the expert. So we're helping our hero deliver it, but we're not doing it for them. We're not being at the center of the why. We're helping them get there. So in a great state of this, we're showing our expertise, but we're framing it in all ways why it's important for our hero to care about it. So instead of being more dictator guides, for lack of a better definition, we're being more inclusive. Guys have, we're sharing all of the good, possibly bad, just depending on what we're doing, but the consequences.

(16:09): And then we're telling them why it's important for our employees to take action for success. So we're more of a support than a do this, do that thing. So in that current example that I shared with you about annual enrollment as the guide and HR, we want to share with them our employees, why annual enrollment's important, why they should take action, what they need to know about annual enrollment, where to find information about it and what the impact is to them. But we're not doing it in a way that says back off buddy, HR knows best. So we're not saying things like do it by this or else, right? We're not going to get the action. Yes, we know or not reopening enrollment periods if people don't enroll. And if we're being honest, we know that we're going to open the enrollment period if we have to.

(17:06): But that aside, as a guide, we're explaining the importance to the hero. We're giving them the fill in the gap spaces so that they can take those steps that they need to take in order to be successful in our action. So the third character we need to think about with storytelling for HR is the villain. So in our current state, the villain, we have a bunch of villains in HR. We have our employees and we constantly talk about like, why aren't our employees just doing that thing that we want them to do? Like we have asked him a million times, why aren't they just doing it? I said, do this. I am in HR. Why are they listening to me? Right? Like that's the villain. We see a lot of employee villains in our daily life because we sort of are disconnected as the guide and trying to be the hero.

(18:03): We're not understanding why our employees are not listening to us and so they turn into the villain. The next felon a lot of us have is budget. Like if we had more money we could just fix this problem. I don't have the budget for that. I don't have the time for that. I can't make somebody do that because I don't have the right software. So being restrained with our budget is a big problem for a lot of the things that we're doing. And now in this current time of coven 19 where our budgets are even tighter, we use this more as a villain. Like we can't do stuff because our budgets are way beyond tight and the next villain is our boss. Or maybe it's HR senior leadership. They just don't understand what's work. Like why this isn't working. They don't get the importance. They're not hearing me, they're not listening to me.

(19:01): Oh my gosh, Whoa. And in that current state of having all these villains, I only outlined three on a daily basis. We can probably add things like our clients or a specific employee or maybe it's a difficult colleague in HR that we work with or the employee relations group or illegal cause. Gosh, legal really is making us say all this stuff in our HR communications to make it worse. Like we have a lot of villains. The problem is all of those things that I outlined and the hundred more that you can come up with on your own, we can't influence that. Our employees are not just going to get it. Our budget isn't going to be increased overnight and our boss or senior leadership is always going to have their own perspective and point of view. Those are what I call gravity issues. Meaning gravity still happens.

(20:01): We can't fight against it. We're not trying to prove it wrong. So things that we can influence, we have to let go of. And these villains in our current state are totally gravity issues. However, when we think about the villains slightly differently, we can actually influence the outcome. So instead of thinking about one of those problems as villains, instead, the actual problem, friction point or danger that we're helping our hero avoid becomes the victim, the villain instead of the person or the thing that we've been so consumed with. And so in that same benefit campaign example, the villain isn't, you're not going to get an opportunity to enroll the villain instead is the problem or friction point or danger and that we're getting them to avoid. So I would probably use danger in this office in this instance of if you don't enroll, you're not going to have the opportunity to cover your family for medical benefits in the upcoming year.

(21:14): If we say that, and that's our villain, that's what we're pitting our hero against. The converse is where they're going to want to take action. They don't want to deal with that kind of villain. They want to be the hero. And so yes, we can blame the employee in our current state and say, ah, they're not listening to me. I have to send another eight emails in order to get heard. Why? Why, why? If we slightly change our framework and make the problem the villain, then we can address that with them in a way that makes sense for them. So that's a storytelling for HR framework. It's about the hero who are employees at the center of, we're talking to them in us. So what, why do I care manner. It's the guide who HR is and we're leading them as the experts. Why it's important for our employees to take the action for their overall success.

(22:14): And finally, the villain is that problem or friction point that we're hoping to help our hero avoid. And if we take 10 seconds before we write a single HR email and maybe a minute or two before we write in depth campaigns or guides or intranet sites or what have you, we can instantly improve the effectiveness of our HR communications. And I want you to think of this a little bit more broadly real quick, which is I like, I really like taking what we do in HR and relate it to other departments. So for this example, the easiest line to draw is to marketing. And so in marketing, let's say you get email marketing from um, a store, a clothing store, maybe it's something like old Navy or gap or whomever, like whatever your favorite clothing store is or a shoe store or whatever. You get emails from them, you signed up, you want their discounts, they send emails to you specifically.

(23:21): So they don't send you an email, you need to buy this thing by this date or you are never going to have the opportunity to do it again, which is how we in HR speak a lot of the times. Instead, they're curating information to you specifically in order for you to have exactly what it is that you want. It's a curated list of images or outfits or colors that you've checked out on their site before because they want you to feel like they know you, that you're the hero, that you're the decision maker. They're guiding you by letting you know in their email when the sale dates are and the times and the percentage taking off and where to go to actually complete the sale. And the problem, the villain or the friction point is he can only take this kind of action on our website during this time. So if you're able to transition your thought about how we communicate with our employees to a more marketing perspective of how we respond to our own emails that we get, you'll see that effective marketing messages follow the storytelling for HR framework. For the most part, we just need to take some time to identify the hero, the guide, and the villain for each HR communication that we make in order for it to be instantly more successful.

(24:57): This podcast is brought to you by better microsites with your HR budgets being cut and you being on the hunt for ways to do more with less. Why not consider a total rewards or benefits micro-site to not only increase your employee experience, but also deliver increased value at half the cost and using story telling for HR tactics? We all know that your off the shelf benefit administration website is extremely user unfriendly, lacking customization, easy to find information, a crazy firewall, and a missing search function all at an extremely high cost. Better microsites are 100% designed based on what your employees need to know, your branding and your information, improving the speed in which employees can find important benefit and information while seamlessly connecting with your enrollment vendor. Learn more about better microsites at better.com/micro sites. That's B E T T hr.com/microsites thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information including the show notes and resources, please go to rethink HR podcast.com/six.

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