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Lessons from a creative writing expert on how to use storytelling to increase employee engagement

Kyla Jardine's profile image
By Kyla Jardine
Account Director

Once upon a time, I had a manager who loved telling stories to make a point. One day, he was discussing why it’s important to look at the way people work, as well as at their outcomes. He then launched into a story that I’ve never forgotten. It went like this...

On a sunny spring day, a man was out walking in the woods when he saw a tree with a target drawn on its trunk. Right in the centre of the target was a slender, feathered arrow. 

The man walked further. He saw another tree with another target and another perfectly centred arrow. Then he saw another, and another. 

Marvelling at the skill and accuracy of the unknown archer, the man kept walking, until in the distance he saw a man with a bow. This was the incredible sportsman! Running to catch up with him, he panted out a question – how had the archer achieved such perfect marksmanship? 

The archer smiled smugly. 

‘Simple,’ he said. ‘First, I shoot the arrow. Then I draw the target!’

Creativity, connection, and continuous learning

For my manager, that was an interesting reminder about the importance of an organisation’s working practices. But what stood out for me was how memorable and thought-provoking the story was. It made me think in a different way.

That’s what stories do. They draw us in. They give us new perspectives. 

Neuroscientists are finding that more parts of our brain light up when we’re listening to a story than when (surprise!) we’re reading through a PowerPoint presentation. 

The power of storytelling isn’t just relegated to fiction. In the workplace, personal stories from colleagues and leaders ‘humanise’ the speaker – they build connection. They open discussion and a richer understanding of why someone may feel a certain way or may want to achieve a key goal. Stories are compelling. 

So, how can your organisation draw on the power of storytelling to enhance the employee experience and increase employee engagement? 

Six ways to use storytelling techniques in your internal communications:

Build employees into your company story. 

Use the narrative empowerment technique: turn employees into the leading characters in your communications. By asking for their stories and creatively weaving them into your descriptions of how goals are achieved, your communications become more authentic, new connections are made, and you foster a culture of inclusion and ownership that inspires deeper engagement. 

Run Character Development Workshops.

These workshops are a chance for colleagues to think in detail about their career journey in a fun and imaginative way: by positioning themselves as characters in a story. As they identify their motivations, strengths, and growth arcs, they become more self-aware and focused on what they want to achieve and understand the different paths they can take to achieve their goals. 

Storyboard the vision.

Storyboarding is all about setting out how a story develops. Employees can apply this to the story of your organisation: creating a ‘future vision’ and strategising how to get there. Crafting the potential plot twists, challenges, and triumphs of the organisational or team journey creates a shared sense of purpose and adventure, which aligns thinking and inspires collective action.

Use writing prompts to drive reflective discussion.

A writing prompt is a question or statement that focuses everyone’s attention on the same topic. As an example: ‘What went well today?’. A prompt can be used to drive reflection about shared experiences, challenges, and aspirations. This promotes the open, authentic dialogue that deepens relationships, builds trust, and fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Tell engaging stories about your organisation.

Engaging stories are ones that are tailored to their audience and have a story ‘arc’ – a place where they start, and a place where they finish. In an organisation, the story is often about ‘how’ you achieved a key outcome (the ‘end’ of the story). Think about what makes that arc exciting: where did the journey start, what challenges did you face, what was at risk, how did you overcome those challenges, and how did that feel? This approach is compelling and builds a deeper connection between your employees and your organisation.

Enhance your Recognition programme.

You can also employ the ‘engaging story’ technique within your recognition programme. Regularly telling employee stories – highlighting how a colleague achieved a key outcome – reinforces a positive feedback loop that inspires continued engagement and excellence.  

When we hear a story, it taps into the limbic system – the part of our brain that prompts our emotional and behavioural responses. It’s key to behaviour change, and to the way we feel. As we listen, we react as though we are part of the story. We’re caught up in the narrative and so we respond in a much deeper way than we respond to external, objective facts. That’s the incredible power of the story. 

At Caburn Hope, a Gallagher company, we’re masters of the story. If you need help in using the power of storytelling to drive deeper, richer, employee engagement and productivity, get in touch! We’d be delighted to help. 

Kyla Jardine's profile image
By Kyla Jardine
Account Director

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