Storytelling for HR

An area where HR clearly can improve is storytelling

If you ask an HR team: “Tell me your story?”, it often takes a long time before the team has put a coherent and compelling story together. Sometimes they can show their plan (25+ pages in PowerPoint), but it becomes more difficult if they have to summarise the plan in a five-minute pitch. Often I loose interest after the first paragraphs.

Some tips for your HR story

1. Design your story with your audience in mind

Think about your audience before you design your story. Is it the CEO? Is it your management team? Your global HR leadership team? Your industry network? Try to tell the story in the language of your audience.

2. Stick to the rule of three

Divide your story in three parts. The common “Why?/What?/How?” is a very useful framework. Stories that are divided into three parts seem to work better.

3. Connect your story to the business issues of today

A compelling HR story addresses a business issue of today. A business issue is not the same as an HR issue. HR issues can be very important, but they should be connected to a business issue. Lack of talent is not a business issue. “How can we grow in Asia?” is. Because we want to grow in Asia (as there is a growing demand for our services in this region), we will need more talent in Asia. How can we find talent in Asia?

4. Add facts and detail. Stories are more convincing if they contain concrete facts

Most audiences like facts and detail. “In the coming five years we will have to recruit 1,000 new engineers in China and Malaysia” sounds better than “We will have to recruit many engineers in Asia”.
Of course too many facts and too much detail and spoil your story.

5. Give some examples

Illustrate your story with some examples. “Last year we recruited 200 young engineers in China. After one year 49 had left the company. A good example is David Chang. David studied in UK and US (an MBA) before he returned to China to work for us. I talked to David last week. The main reason he gave for his departure is that the career path in our company is very unclear. He moves to company X, where the package is comparable, but they offer him an international traineeship”.

6. Imagine the future

Picture a compelling future. “If we make the required investment, in three years our Asian Leadership Academy will be able to train 500 young professionals per year”.

7. Words and phrases to avoid

  • Competency framework
  • Blueprint
  • Strategic scenarios
  • The War for Talent
  • Business Partner
  • An integral approach
  • Change starts at the top
  • Purpose (I heard someone joking the other day, after another presentation loaded with the need for purpose: “My purpose is itching…”)
  • Agile
  • We live in a VUCA world

8. Don’t make your story too long

Long-windiness and HR go very well together. Surprise your audience and be brief and concise. TED talks are maximum 18 minutes, and good presenters can tell a very good story in 18 minutes or less.

9. Use some pictures, but not too many

It can be very powerful to tell your story without illustrations. If you want to use illustrations, spend ample time on the design of your graphics. If you design a couple of nice informative illustrations, you will be able to use these make your story stronger.

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