Why Storytelling Is an Essential Part of Your Onboarding Process

4 minute read

Our brains
are hardwired for stories. We use them when we tell a joke at a bar, catch up
with friends over lunch, watch “Breaking Bad,” or toast a groom at his
wedding.They engage us and draw us in, yet they’re practically nonexistent when
it comes to onboarding new employees. Why is that? The first few days of
employment, after all, can be hugely overwhelming.

So how can
you expect a new hire to remember customer service protocol, when to attend
staff meetings, and where to find company letterhead all at once? An effective
strategy for retaining all this information is incorporating stories. Learning
is strongly tied to storytelling because we remember things more clearly when
they’re associated with a person or an event we can relate to. Storytelling
creates a meaningful and memorable connection between employees and educational
material.

Establish
Training With Stories

The sooner a
connection is formed between the learner and the material, the bigger an
investment an employee will be willing to make in your training. Stories are an
essential part of that connection because they engage all of our senses.
According to University of Toronto Cognitive Psychology professor Keith Oatley,
when certain senses are suggested during a story — for example, “the room
smelled musty” — the subject’s sensory cortex is triggered as though he were
experiencing the stimuli in real time.

Instructional
designers know that the more senses we can engage, the more likely learners
will be to retain information. Compliance training makes a lot more sense when
presented as a narrative instead of a list of dos and don’ts.

The problem
is figuring out how to incorporate stories into the often dry and
straightforward onboarding process. Here are some ways to start off on the
right foot:

  • Brainstorming: A simple brainstorming session during training helps learners forge an emotional connection with the material by involving them in the process. An employee who feels heard and appreciated, for instance, will be more invested than someone watching a presentation.
  • Scenarios: Learners must be able to easily envision when and where they’ll use this new information. Scenarios that show real-life situations — like when to enact compliance training, for example — deepen a sense of value and increase retention.
  • Rewards: You can drive engagement and strengthen the learner-material connection by giving employees clear goals to work toward or by gamifying the onboarding process.

These simple
tactics are a good first step in engaging our narrative senses to be more
involved in the learning process. You’ll have to incorporate stories into the
content of your onboarding training, however, to make a real impact.

Build
Narratives Into Training

If learners
see a useful application for the material they’re being asked to internalize,
they’re more likely to tune in. Here are five key methods for including
narratives in onboarding:

  1. Create characters. Adding characters to a story is what creates a real connection with the listener. Learners feel empathy toward characters if they’re stuck in situations the employee can identify with, such as dealing with a frustrated customer. Draw anecdotes and characteristics from real people to create these characters.
  2. Design usable experiences. Imaginary situations make your employees check out early, so don’t use unrealistic scenarios to demonstrate training. Brainstorm with current employees to create scenarios that actually stumped them early on in the job.
  3. Enrich with detail. Engage as many senses as possible by creating stories rich in detail to build an emotional connection with learners.
  4. Ask for predictions. When there’s a question about the outcome of a situation, ask learners to predict what they think will happen. Creating a story in their minds about results makes the information more likely to stick.
  5. Use media. Stories don’t have to be long-winded, spoken narratives — comic strips, short videos, infographics or even video games make an impact by engaging more senses.

Engaging
narratives can set the tone during onboarding for a long and happy partnership
between an employee and a company. Every new hire at Procter & Gamble, for
example, receives a copy of a book on the history of the company and a tour
through the company museum. By connecting employees to the history of the
company and its mission, the onboarding process creates a story around where
the company has been and where it hopes to go, building an emotional connection
with new employees from the moment they start the job.

Stories don’t
have to begin with “once upon a time.” Storytelling in onboarding simply means
creating genuinely engaging material. The extra effort will pay off in employee
retention and performance, and you’ll all live happily ever after.

Andrew Fayad
is the CEO and Managing Partner of 
eLearning Mind. He oversees sales, marketing, and strategic growth opportunities.
eLearning Mind is an e-learning design and development agency that helps companies
transform their existing learning materials into memorable and engaging
e-learning experiences. By hiring talented graphic designers and motion graphic
artists, eLearning Mind provides seamless project management and a unique,
collaborative customer experience.

 Young Entrepreneur
Council (YEC)
is an invite-only organization
comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership
with Citi, YEC recently launched
StartupCollective, a free virtual
mentorship program.