To most of us, employee storytelling and employee testimonial might sound like the same thing. We all want to put our company’s best foot forward, don’t we? Well, the answer is yes, to a degree. If we are truly looking to attract employees who will thrive in our organisation we need to be honest, we need to be prepared to show the downsides as well as all the wonderful things about working at our company.
Job seekers are not fools. We know that many of them find videos from employees and hiring managers more credible than official company culture videos, they can certainly sniff out a spot of astro-turfing at 10 paces. A truly engaged candidate will not hesitate to dive into Glassdoor, chat rooms and forums to discover the truth about an employer.
What’s the difference between an employee testimonial and an employee story?
Authenticity is the key.
Employee testimonials tend sound a little like this: “I love working for Awesome Company because [ X + Y ]”
Employee stories are more nuanced. It might start with the employee’s journey at the company, or focus on a particular project, how it was executed and how it made the employee feel, or it could be a story that illustrates how one of the company values is actually lived ‘IRL’ by this employee.
Another creative way to combat relentlessly positive and scripted employer branding content is to ask your employees to talk about their favourite aspect of working at your company, and the thing they find the most challenging or annoying (without naming any names of course).
#TRU Founder Bill Boorman pulls no punches when he declares that most candidates are searching for ‘the job that's the least sh*t.” We need to tell real stories to give job seekers an opportunity to opt in, or out of the application process.
For Leni, a department where everyone eats lunch at their desk but leaves at 5pm might be ideal. Sutji on the other hand is keen to work somewhere where the team takes a break and heads outdoors at lunch and shares a beer in the communal kitchen at the end of the day. Everyone has a different threshold and levers, your job is to snuffle out the universal truths about working in your department, division or location and find ways to share them authentically.
The cost to productivity and team morale of mis-hires cannot be underestimated (see what Forbes has to say about that). So why do so many business still try to recruit with empty promises and tall tales? There has to be a balance of aspiration and truthfulness if we want people to feel good about coming to work with us and to stick around and reach peak productivity.
Sounds risky! How do I get buy in?
Start by using your intranet or an employee forum to encourage people to step forward.
Let them know you’re looking for an interesting story, a journey, something to share about how they came to be where they are. Ask teams to nominate their storytellers or team members they're proud of, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the people who might not be your highest achievers but who contribute significantly to your company culture in other ways.
It goes without saying that video is the best medium to record employee stories. Get your own team to create some examples to demonstrate the style of content you plan on producing and how ‘authentic’ it is. With a tool like the VideoMyJob app it’s easy to create professional looking video content from a smartphone, no expensive training, gear or outsourcing required.
What am I looking for?
Remember that not all trajectories are about managing people. People do not all share the same motivations, try to look for stories of experiences that resonate with a broad range of people. Some people are driven by a desire to be experts in their field, others by a sense of belonging and many get satisfaction from the impact their work has in the real world.
Work with your senior executives and team leaders to identify the people your organization wants more of. Are you looking for employees that are actively living your values, do you need more of a specific skill set, do you have diversity goals or enough women leaders.
Review submissions as a team, it’s your responsibility to ensure it’s a ‘truth’, not a one-off case. Your employee stories need to be universal (but unique) and repeatable experiences. Applicants are looking for confirmation, not fairytales—is this a place where I can bring my whole self to work? Demonstrate through your employees how that is done in your company by employees at all levels, stages and job roles.
How do I prep my interviewees?
Most importantly, and perhaps counterintuitively, don’t prep your interviewees too well! The story needs to be a conversation, it’s needs to feel natural and unrehearsed, complete with the odd umm or stumble. Send your volunteers a few questions to get them thinking, but don’t prep the story word for word.
Create a safe space to conduct your interviews. A room, quiet outdoor area or non-accessible space that is actually safe with no chance observers and nothing to throw their flow. If your workplace is frenetic and that’s an important part of your story, find a place where that can play out in the background, behind a glass wall or similar transparent partition.
Listen out for generic tales, try to draw out the unique, humorous or heartwarming elements of your employees tale—practice active listening and probe your interviewee to uncover the gold. Ideally the person asking questions should be a ‘stranger’, someone genuinely curious for whom the information is new.
Just like a candidate interview, encourage your employees to speak in examples, use the STAR method (STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result) to help them build their stories effectively.
Don’t do this
Don’t make it inaccessible. Stories need to be told in the words of the storyteller to be credible. It’s okay to enforce no swearing, for example, but you don’t want your interviewee to sound like they swallowed your brand guide.
Don’t exclude potential viewers by using jargon and company acronyms. Don’t jump on your subjects if they use jargon or platitudes, just ask them to elaborate and steer them towards the story. “So, you talked about autonomy, how does that happen for you in your day to day job?”
How do you measure storytelling ROI?
As with all successful marketing, your eventual new hires are likely to be a result of multiple touch points.
You can start by adding questions to your onboarding survey like:
- How did you hear about us?
- Did you watch any videos before applying?
Survey your hiring managers, are they getting better applicants and hires? It’s difficult to make this statistically significant, and for hiring longevity it takes some time to build a picture.
The beauty of VideoMyJob is the cost is contained, there are no equipment, production or associated costs and you can gradually build a library of employee stories, starting in the areas where your business has the greatest need.
Employer brand is the only talent management tool that transcends the entire employee lifecycle. It touches every part of the employee experience and communication of your employer brand is a strategy worth investing in. The bottom line is that when supply and demand for talent is so unbalanced, organizations who master their employee brand will be the ones who come out on top.