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How to Tell Your Organization’s Story

No two companies are the same—from how, why, when, and where they started, to the various aspects of everyday operations—each has a unique story to tell. Organizations that stand out when it comes to appealing to potential employees are those that know how to tell the story of their uniqueness so well that people want to be part of it.

Among the findings of the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) ongoing research on corporate culture is that building on the legacy of an organization’s history and the principles that have been foundational in guiding it through continuous change should be the first step in culture renovation work.

But building on legacy shouldn’t be limited to change management considerations—the things that make an organization distinctive from its competitors should be part of the story that’s told to candidates and current employees alike.

Relying on the organization’s story, its mission, and the things that make it unique is an everyday practice at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), where the Mother Standard® of care guides everything they do, according to Zane Zumbahlen, Chief Human Resource Officer.

The patient-centered approach was established by Richard J Stephenson, who founded CTCA in 1988 following the death of his mother from cancer. Following his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Stephenson’s family searched for the most effective cancer treatments and supportive care options designed to enrich quality of life. They were disappointed to discover this type of integrated model didn’t seem to exist.

Zane ZumbahlenStephenson set out to change cancer care by creating a new model that changed the way oncologists, surgeons, nurses, and other clinical professionals treat patients with cancer. CTCA’s whole-person cancer treatment approach is grounded in treating patients like family members—giving the same standard of care we would to our own mothers. This approach to patient care also helps tell CTCA’s story to a broad audience every day.

Zumbahlen noted in a recent meeting of the NYC Chief Human Resource Officer Forum, which is co-hosted by i4cp, that “the Mother Standard,” as it’s referred to internally, helps CTCA remain competitive in the impossibly competitive healthcare talent market.

“We know we can’t always compete with the sky-high pay rates some places are offering, but we’re able to attract the right talent to CTCA because our story resonates with them—people are strongly aligned with the mission.

This also means that even if stakeholders [CTCA calls employees stakeholders] may leave for other opportunities, they often return because of our culture—they didn’t experience that sense of mission, purpose, and belonging in other organizations—and we welcome them back,” Zumbahlen said.

How to tell your organization’s story—ideas to help get the storytelling conversation started:

  1. Establish (or reestablish) the what, why, and who
    Maybe there’s an assumption that everyone knows what your organization’s story is, both internally and externally. But an exercise that defines what makes the organization unique, why the company exists, what it does, and what it stands for is one worth doing and should be repeated often. An example of a company that does this beautifully is 3M (which began as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company). The organization has continuously innovated and reinvented itself over its 120-year history, never losing sight of its unique story. 

    These conversations help formulate and/or refine a succinct message that covers the what, why, and who messaging both internally and externally. Making these elements clear, communicates what to expect of the organization’s culture—and also indirectly suggests the who to potential candidates—it’s a safe assumption on the part of those who are attracted by your organization’s story that it resonates with the organization’s existing workforce. So, they can be assured that many of their prospective co-workers were likely attracted to the organization for similar reasons.   
  2. Be clear about what your organization stands for and why
    From both a talent attraction and customer relationship perspective, i4cp’s research has consistently found that the public position of companies on everything from health and well-being to social/cultural issues and environmental concerns matters a great deal. People want to know where a company stands on issues that are important to them—be it access to health care, the opioid crisis, and homelessness, to racial equity, social justice, and reproductive rights. These stances tell potential candidates a great deal about an organization’s culture and weigh in their decisions about joining.
  3. Make sure everyone can tell the same story
    Knowing the organization’s story and being able to eloquently share it is an important part of the recruitment process. Everyone from sourcers and recruiters to interviewers and hiring managers should be able to capture the attention and interest of candidates by defining what makes the organization unique, why the company exists, what it does, and what it stands for. i4cp’s research has found that the ability to use storytelling to effectively communicate about the culture and employee experience to candidates is a skill that distinguishes high-performing talent acquisition professionals from their competitors.
  4. Reinforce a culture of recruiting
    A culture of recruiting is one in which every employee is considered a recruiter of talent and everyone (both inside and outside the organization) is viewed as a potential candidate. Ensuring that your workforce is equipped and encouraged to tell the organization’s story can help bolster employee attraction, retention, and experience. Offering training on this should be an element of an employee referral program—which has a much better chance of being effective in enticing your best talent to refer others if they feel confident as tellers of your organization’s story.   
  5. Look beyond skills and competencies during hiring
    Look for resonance with your organization’s story, mission, and guiding principles during interviews. Does what you share with candidates seem to genuinely interest and engage them? If not, what can you do to improve the message you want to get across?  Does your organization have a story you’re proud of related to its ESG work? Do you have specific examples of what and how your company operates guided by its stated mission and principles?

Finally, be sure that your organization’s story is relevant to what’s happening in the world and that you’re able to connect it to what matters to the talent you aspire to attract and keep.

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.