Want to drive pride, connection and belonging? Humanise your culture through stories
When I first arrived in tropical Far North Queensland, I was 21 and had never seen a gecko in my life. Suddenly, I found myself living with 2 million of them – in a converted shed, in a hot-and-sticky town of 2,000 people I didn’t know, except for one: the editor, owner and only other person at the weekly newspaper I’d recently been employed at.
I was a cadet journalist at the small community paper – my first “proper job”. After three cold, grey years at university in Melbourne, I was exhilarated to be in this simmering, palm-fringed paradise on the east coast of Cape York.
I was also slightly terrified and terribly shy!
One thing I quickly realised was that my editor’s cheeky humour ensured the newspaper always had the town talking. I also discovered there was no time for shyness because everyone wanted to talk to me, “the new journo from Mexico”.
I soon felt right at home.
Adding to my sense of belonging in this quirky community was a new section of the newspaper called “People in Profile”. Every two weeks, I’d interview a local about their life and write their story. I interviewed publicans, councillors, Indigenous elders, a Muay Thai fighter, poet-slash-comedian, youth worker, historian, wildlife rescuer, a Sister of Mercy, a former lighthouse keeper ...
Some stories were hilarious, others heart-wrenching. All were fascinating, and many stay with me still.
Our intention with People in Profile was to highlight the many interesting people who made the town so unique. What my editor and I didn’t realise was the deep sense of pride the initiative would bring to the surface.
There was a real buzz in town whenever a People in Profile was published. The stories stoked residents’ loyalty to the town, their town.
They deepened people’s respect for their neighbours. People understood more about each other and saw beyond the titles of “publican” or “mayor”. They saw people for their whole selves, and how all their seemingly individual stories connected to create this offbeat, diverse, close-knit, yet warmly welcoming town.
People’s sense of belonging strengthened – to place, and to each other. And it was due to the power of storytelling.
Twenty years later, I realise this is what I do now. As a Senior Storyteller at Employer Branding Australia, I write stories that highlight people’s career journeys and their “why” for doing the work they do.
People stories showcase an organisation’s values, benefits, mission and culture. The aim is to appeal to the right kind of candidates in the future. Yet, they have another enduring and highly valuable effect: people stories generate pride, respect and belonging amongst existing team members.
Why is this important? So that good people stay. So that good people want to stay.
Like the People in Profile stories that strengthened the bond between a town and its residents, authentic people stories help foster deep connections between people, their fellow team members, and their employer. They reveal the challenges and triumphs, goals and purpose, the person beyond their role, and the amazing things they achieve within it.
Importantly, these stories create a real emotional connection with the reader.
There have been many times when we’ve written people stories for an organisation, and we’ve received feedback along the lines of:
I had no idea this person had such an interesting story! I feel so proud to be working alongside them.
That kind of pride is what drives a wonderful workplace culture. And it reveals the two-fold power of storytelling:
Stories reveal a culture, and they propel it.
And it all starts with an authentic conversation with your people.
Do your people have a story to tell? I bet they do! If you’d like help telling your people’s stories, we’d love to hear from you.