Storytelling in a Civil Engineering Company

08Storytelling is a powerful vehicle for persuasion. We work with a large civil engineering company, where engineers, estimators and business managers rotate from the field into an employee development advocate role. Their job is to identify development needs in their business unit. Some of these people like to say that they have come into the role with mud still on their boots.

Coming from positions where they are accustomed to having the authority to get the work done, it is not the easiest thing to step into the advocate role, where they have a title but no positional authority. Their span of responsibility is all the employees in their business unit. They don’t always have the automatic support of local management, and when economic times are challenging, development may not be at the top of a local manager’s list.

This week, we conducted a storytelling workshop. The goal was to develop success stories targeted to the stakeholders who make the decisions to direct resources to employee development. The most important thing was for each employee development leader to identify a compelling story and use a peer-coaching model to get encouragement, feedback and useful suggestions.

Some people didn’t know that the amazing thing they had created or witnessed back at work was a “story” they could and should share. We are all creative, but sometimes we don’t recognize a nugget of gold sitting right at our feet, the very nugget that will make our stakeholders’ eyes bulge! “You bet we want that!”

So why story? Ideas must be actionable. Storytelling is all about actions: when we can see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, touch it, it’s ours. Stories have a paradoxical reality: I may be telling it, but you are imagining it using elements of your reality. The more exact a picture I paint of my reality, the more clearly you can see the connection to your own–down to the color of the mud on your boots.

Being in a group process like a storytelling workshop gives us access to collective ‘juice’ that we can use to supercharge our own creative energies. As a group, we give each storyteller honest encouragement. We let the teller know where we connect the most, where we get snagged, what we like and want more of. We help brainstorm ideas if a teller asks for help through a stuck place.

Through facilitation and peer coaching, each advocate found a great success story, and got to test and develop it for prime time. Each person’s unique perceptions and values were reflected in what story they chose to tell, the facts and impresssions that went into it, and how they chose to tell it.  What’s important to each of us counts. That’s when a story is not just ‘telling tales’ at work, but creating a persuasive picture of success that other people can get excited about.