How can business owners engage investors, customers and employees? Here's the value of storytelling at work.

How big is the value of storytelling at work? Huge. In any business, organizational culture comes largely from the stories that owners and employees tell. This is because stories are vehicles for expressing values and purpose. So many businesses begin with founding stories think friends Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak starting Apple in a garage or Ben & Jerry's beginning in a small shop in Burlington, Vermont.

How can you use stories about your business to engage your employees and other stakeholders?

Companies Are Driven by Stories

The above stories are famous because they concisely and entertainingly express values. Apple is about being different. Ben & Jerry's is about community and caring for customers and the world. Stories are part of what built these companies, and stories can help build your business, too. An Inc. article describes the value of storytelling at work: "Before it has investors, customers, profits, press coverage, or even a perfected product, every [business] has at least one valuable asset: its story. So you might want to ask yourself: Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you doing this?"

Global retailer Walmart organizes their corporate values around stories of the organization's founder, Sam Walton. When Walmart is making a big decision, it asks, "What would Sam do?" Walmart's leaders are also encouraged to read "The Sam Walton Way," a book about Walton's business philosophy. So both the stories Walton told and stories about him continue to drive Walmart's culture and decision-making more than two decades after its founder's death.

Stories Can Reflect and Create Culture

Tell stories that express the key values and purpose of your business. Your stories should enable stakeholders whether they're employees, customers or investors to understand why you exist. What sparked the business idea? What obstacles were overcome during the business's fledgling years? What continues to inspire the business owner?

As author Jonathan Gottschall explains in his book "The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human," stories speak to our emotions, connecting with our basic human need to find meaning. While it's easy to forget data on a spreadsheet, that same data can become memorable if embedded in a good story. Business owners, says Gottschall, "must be creative storytellers: They have to spin compelling narratives about their products and brands."

Stories engage our hearts and minds, notes Gottschall, and this is exactly why business owners should be telling them. Telling stories about an organization's values and mission can be the most strategic communication they ever do. What stories can you tell?



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