The Power of the Narrative: How Storytelling Can Make a Business Case

© Jake Hellbach - Fotolia.com
© Jake Hellbach - Fotolia.com

When my kids were small, one of our greatest activities was after their baths we would all head to their room for story time.

Our Saturday routine was to spend time at Barnes & Noble choosing books for the week.

They would decide which books they wanted read to them; the new ones, or, the same old ones, over and over. I was always amazed how mesmerized they would become with these stories.

It was as if they were in a hypnotic state. They would be so engrossed in the plots that they would literally lull them to sleep.

Story telling has played a role in all of our lives as we grew up. An effective story engages and creates an atmosphere of successful communication between our loved ones, but more of that should also take place at work — not only in our offices, but in our conference rooms as well.

The real culprit behind bad meetings

This past week I read an interesting article here at TLNT titled, Does Power Point Cause Bad Meetings? Not Bloody Likely.” This article was based on an HBR article: The No. 1 Killer of Meetings — and what you can do about it.”

I am currently reading a book called “Tell to Win” by Peter Guber. This book tells the story of the importance of storytelling and the importance of the narrative in business. It tell the story of connecting, persuading, and triumphing with the power of the story.

Storytelling entertains the reader and earns their interest. The power of the story converts dry PowerPoint slides into engaging, enlightened, and interesting discussion. The slides should only serve as the backdrop of the discussion.

I once read an interview with a CEO who said that he bans slide decks. He gives his direct reports five minutes to tell the story. He felt that the use of PowerPoint was being used as a crutch.

Bring the data to life

The infamous financier Michael Milken once said that in his investment banking firm, he would match the data guys with the the storytellers. They would be the ones that could use a metaphor to enable his audience to visualize the effects of the data being presented. They had proven time and time again that they could bring the data to life.

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In HR today — the new version which I refer to as HR 3.0 — human capital analytics is reaching Holy Grail status. Human Capital metrics is one sure fire way for HR leaders to elevate their game within the organizations. With the pressure to guide their organization in meeting key business objectives, the pressure is on.

This has driven the need to have access to relevant metrics to determine how effectively HR is delivering what the business needs as it relates to human capital, using the resultant measures to predict future organizational performances and outcomes. These metrics can serve as a catalyst for change in creating and sustaining a competitive advantage within this knowledge-based economy.

The need for the narrative

The problem with this scenario is, what to do with the data? With the possibility of data overload, how do we interpret these numbers to make the case? How do we take a stream of data coming from various sources and coalesce it into a laser-focused presentation with the correct metaphors and personification that not only engages but also distills the message into digestible nuggets?

In “Tell to Win,” these are some points that stood out to me:

  • Craft the beginning to shine the light on your challenge or problem.
  • Shape the middle around the struggle to meet that challenge.
  • End with a resolution that ignites in the listener your call to action.
  • Successful stories help to realign your interest.
  • You are not done until they say, “Ahha! I got it!”

By marrying the narrative and the data, we can help drive performance consistently from one year to the next, and, become true champions of our organizations growth agenda. We will be able to speak about workforce investments in the business language that senior leaders and finance executives understand.

Welcome to the major leagues!

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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1 Comment on “The Power of the Narrative: How Storytelling Can Make a Business Case

  1. Hi Ron – good to read about your interest in using story telling with HR metrics. Our team has been doing this type of work for quite a few years now, and via our work at the University of Southern California (at the Center for Effective Organizations), we are teaching a program called data coaching that blends story telling and HR analytics.

    In this 2.5 day program, we teach HR professionals to help managers use their data to drive dialogue, action and results. It seems there is a lot of good work on story telling (about “me” telling a better story), and there has been much progress in HR analytics. However, effectively marrying the two with proven tools and process has been rare. We are working to change that by blending story telling, directing and analytics. It has been a very fun journey. Anyone interested can go to http://ceo.usc.edu/seminar/data_coaching_workshop_2011.html to learn more or sign up for the workshop.

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