Only about one in four employees in the United States believes in his or her company’s values. Even fewer say they can apply those values to their work every day. (1)
Executives and their trusted advisors spend countless hours brainstorming, testing, and refining the values to which they hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. Leaders are taught to model the values, and performance programs are often tied to the adoption of value-based behaviors. In the quest to create and define corporate culture, this work is commendable and its intentions are pure.
Yet, when you consider the fact that only 25 percent of employees are on board, you have to wonder what went wrong.
Is it possible that the values are solid, but the way they’re communicated is off the mark? What if you had the power to be an exception to these astonishing statistics in your own organization? You do.
We live in a time of unprecedented, global mistrust. One prestigious longitudinal study (2) has marked the rapid decline of trust in four basic societal institutions: government, the media, non-government organizations (NGOs), and business. Over the past 16 years, trust in these institutions and the authorities that run them has eroded at an alarming rate.
In fact, the majority of people surveyed expressed more faith in the trustworthiness of the mass population than in the “establishment.” People around the world, in established and emerging markets, report their lack of faith in the system.
This year, the study found that among six possible spokespersons (the company CEO, senior executive, employee, activist consumer, academic and media spokesperson), the most trusted is the employee. And trust of the employee over others extends to matters of the treatment of employees and customers; financial earnings and operational performance; business practices and crisis handling; innovation efforts; views on industry issues; and partnerships and programs to address societal issues.
Employees are the secret weapon to communicating company values so they stick. But how?
Believe it or not, you may already have the two things you need to get started:
1. A corporate social responsibility initiative
2. A publishing platform
If your organization is like most, you probably have a corporate social responsibility program that ties to your company’s culture and values. If you work for a pharmaceutical company, it’s likely your company supports charitable initiatives in health care and offers disadvantaged populations access to its medicines. If you’re employed at an engineering firm, you’ll likely find an employee volunteer program that supports education for girls and minority students in STEM curricula. If you work in food services, it’s possible your company supports sustainable nutrition programs in local communities and offers a matching gift program for employees who want to contribute.
In our work with big companies, we’ve found that their philanthropic activities usually align with their values. Most companies actually do practice what they preach. They just forget to mention it. Or, they communicate values in a way that people find hard to remember and put into daily practice.
Companies need help telling their stories – and the best people to provide that help are employees. The most compelling stories often bubble up from the exuberance employees feel when they’re involved in doing good for others. Those stories might focus on a local event such as gathering co-workers to collect trash from a nearby stream or participating in a 5K race that supports a community non-profit. Or, it could involve a longer-term commitment that links to the company’s alliance with a national or global NGO, for example, serving on a board or using vacation time to volunteer abroad. Fun, relatable stories show values rather than tell them.
One company raised awareness of and participation in its premier philanthropic program by 183 percent when it implemented a multi-media, employee-generated storytelling approach. By sharing their own experiences with co-workers, employees improved their ability to articulate and internalize the company’s values by a similar percentage.
As a result, employees around the world connected the values associated with the company’s charitable efforts and employee volunteer programs to the values the company espoused for good citizenship within the organization. The stories identified ideals like collaboration, innovation, and inclusion as hallmarks of success for employees. Those same values surfaced in articles and presentations about the business objectives of the company.
Strategic storytelling unlocks the value of your corporate social responsibility program. It builds a bridge between the company and its colleagues. And, it translates words into action.
How to turn employees into storytellers? Use this three-step system—training, templates and truth.
Training – In a world where nearly everyone knows how to post content on social media channels, some folks get nervous when asked to write a story. Train employees to keep their stories conversational and brief, as if they were writing a Facebook post. Provide examples of great stories to help new writers stick to a structure and length that make sense for your purpose. Encourage employees to review each other’s work prior to posting. Be sure to include the basics: who, what, where, why and how.
Templates – Make it easy for employees to share their stories. Develop templates to help storytellers curate their content such as photos, video, images, charts and written text. Develop a one-page guide on branding, tone and style to guide employees on how to prepare their content for specific distribution channels—the company’s intranet, SharePoint community, website, or social media channels.
Truth – Even Hemingway had an editor. To make sure your employees’ stories are relevant and well presented, establish an editorial review and approval process. From the start, let employees know their stories will be peer reviewed before publication. With gentle suggestions and edits for brevity and clarity, your employees’ CSR stories will sparkle and the storytellers will be proud to see their work published.
Employees are one of the most trusted sources of information. When they tell the story of your company’s values, they’re credible and memorable. With a proven, three-step storytelling system, they’ll breathe new life into your company’s culture.
Vitiello Communications Group is a global leader in business communications working with executives to engage people and inspire them to achieve great outcomes. For more information, contact Nadine Green, Vice President, Operations, at 732-238-6622 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Gallup, Few Employees Believe in Their Company’s Values, Sept. 13, 2016
2. 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer