“Make it personal.” That is the mantra of Mike Swinford, the CEO of Numotion, and it is the guiding principle behind our focus on business storytelling both inside and outside our organization.
As a provider of Complex Rehab Technology (CRT), Numotion helps people with physical disabilities actively participate in everyday life. But not all of our 2,400 employees interact with our customers directly and experience the physical and emotional impact we make first hand. When I would read about other great company cultures, it was clear that a sense of purpose must be shared by employees at every level and every location, and this was our challenge. Bridging the gap was vital to bringing our mission to life for all our employees, especially those in the back office, and keeping them motivated to contribute to our common goals.
We succeeded by harnessing the power of internal storytelling. Here is some insight into how we did it:
As Harrison Monarth explained in Harvard Business Review, “Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”
CRT changes the lives of people with disabilities in profound ways, so sharing our customer stories has been integral to the way we market Numotion externally. We didn’t have to invent a new strategy to bring our employees closer to that emotional experience, too – it was simply a matter of making sure those same stories – and more – were passed along internally.
Internal storytelling is an effective way to build company culture and motivate employees, especially if your workforce is dispersed and doesn’t all have a direct connection to the customer.
What can easily be overlooked, though, is the power of bringing employee stories into that content calendar. Employees’ health and happiness are priorities at Numotion and everyone is encouraged to learn and grow. There are great examples of that in action all around us – it was just a matter of committing to collecting and sharing them.
Example: In 2017, we had an employee lose everything she owned in a house fire. Under the direction of our CEO, our teams from around the country rallied together to replace some of her family’s most valued possessions. That effort to support her was outstanding, but then sharing her story during a live, company-wide video conference so everyone could participate in the “big reveal” is what did wonders for employee morale nationwide.
For internal marketing to be credible and effective at fostering company culture, it must be consistent. After a while, employees should know what to expect and when. You’ll find the sweet spot for how often to communicate with employees by experimenting and asking for feedback until you get it right. Then create a schedule and stick to it.
Consistency also means that you’ll always need new stories in the pipeline. Never send one out without a call-to-action for more. Make it easy for employees to submit their own stories (anonymously if desired) and follow up on each of them to determine the best ones to pursue.
Example: At Numotion, every Monday our Intranet features a profile of an employee below the manager level, and it is consistently the most read component of our internal communications. Specifically, we found quickly that employees find great satisfaction in learning about their colleagues’ background, personal interests and motivation to work at Numotion.
Every Friday we also post a customer or event photo to help employees visualize the great work being done and feel like they are part of something bigger than their own day-to-day responsibility. Employees can also count on receiving a monthly internal email newsletter that includes expanded customer and employee stories.
Once you achieve momentum, internal storytelling can easily mushroom thanks to well-meaning and enthusiastic suggestions from colleagues. This is where focus comes in. We simply can’t do everything and do it well. Nor does telling every story and communicating on every platform efficiently move us toward our objective.
Before implementing an internal marketing plan, clearly define your objectives, audience, capabilities and tactics. Carefully consider where you should spend your time. Then implement the campaign and stick to it until a predetermined point of evaluation. Stay flexible enough to incorporate suggestions from your employees (it’s where some of the best ideas originate) but without diligently staying the course you could dilute your results and will have difficulty effectively gauging your success.
Stay focused. Telling every story and communicating on every platform does not efficiently move us toward our objective.
Employees are inundated with communication from many different sources. For internal storytelling efforts to be successful they must cut through the clutter and feed a variety of preferences.
Example: To engage our dispersed employee base, we utilize our external website and social media (encouraging all employees to actively follow both), Intranet and internal newsletter, national leadership conference and monthly leader-to-leader calls. At our national leadership conference every session is linked to a customer story, while our monthly leader-to-leader calls always begin with one. You can’t copy and paste the same story into multiple vehicles – customize with a video on the website, a write up on the Intranet and an in-person presentation at the leadership conference, for instance, to take advantage of each channel.
Evaluate and Adjust
Anything the marketing team is spending time on should be fine-tuned at regular intervals. Evaluation data is especially helpful in gaining leadership buy-in and providing proof of effectiveness. Results of internal marketing efforts can be challenging to measure and the tools used for evaluation will differ depending on the campaign and business.
Example: At Numotion we track an Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), Numotion Employee Opinion Survey (NEOS), retention numbers and anecdotal feedback. Using the eNPS and our NEOS survey we gauge whether employees feel appropriately communicated to, through anecdotal feedback we can add color to the data. In combination these tools help us ensure that our internal storytelling efforts are impacting our employees and highlight potential adjustments.
Here’s the bottom line.
Internal storytelling is an effective way to build company culture and motivate employees, especially if your workforce is dispersed and doesn’t all have a direct connection to the customer. To create or expand an internal marketing campaign you need to start with the end in mind. What do you want to accomplish? What feeling are you trying to instill in employees to connect them physically and emotionally to the same mission or objective?
Once you get going and see results, it is easy to become complacent. Keep challenging yourself to raise the bar and engage the people around you to keep the effort going. There are always bigger, better and different ways to tell the stories at the heart of your business. Find them, share them and watch how well they energize your team.
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