Think back to your childhood… How many of your bedtime stories started with ‘Once upon a time’? Probably more than you could recall. Whatever the unfolding plot was, you knew it would contain the three key elements of a beginning, a middle and an end, with the inevitable ups and downs along the way.
Any mild peril that the story’s hero or heroine faced was always resolved; their journey through the treacherous jungle or to the top of the villain’s castle to defeat the enemy was done without a hair out of place. These tales from faraway lands were – unbeknown to your younger self – structured perfectly. The format always worked and it never strayed off course.
The narrative was ‘on point’; it told you what the hero was doing, why they were doing it, where they had come from and where they were going. All neat and tidy.
Fast forward a few years (okay, maybe 20 or 30) and that kind of narrative is still what makes us buy into something in the work place. Its strategic positioning means it encourages alignment, unity and inspiration. Being part of an organisation that places strong emphasis on compelling and authentic storytelling is a career highlight, both for you – the IC pro – and the employee; the comfort of a favourite bedtime story has become a grownup reality, with just a bit more pocket money.
For employees, a big difference between being told a great story and being part of one is that they can now be that hero they dreamed about as a child. They get to become their own Luke Skywalker. As adults in fully-functioning organisations, employees are still treading the well-worn Hero’s Journey path that Luke took all the way from Tatooine to Endor; he left home, faced a series of tests and made it out the other side, stronger, more knowledgeable and better equipped for the next battle.
The Hero’s Journey story structure
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which has sold well over a million copies, Mythologist Joseph Campbell described the concept of the Hero’s Journey. He called it a monomyth, a pattern that can be found in almost every narrative in the world.
Campbell’s monomyth structure contains many complex stages, which can be complicated and tricky to follow. Fortunately, in 1992 the pattern was refined by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey and reduced down to 12 simpler stages. This made the structure much more accessible and ideal for those searching for a tried and tested narrative pattern to follow.
From those tentative first steps to the ultimate reward, and remembering the challenges, successes and supporters along the way, no detail is left out. Having such a framework to follow is like a map to guide us; it makes the journey a lot easier to navigate.
Sharing personal stories
That framework – like any story – is always open to development and change, which is also true of any organisation and the people that work within it.
So how do your people tell their stories like a hero-in-waiting? As an IC pro, you want to be able to promote and share news of colleagues who have worked through the beginning, middle and end of their journeys; they’re positive, uplifting and inspiring to those considering their own journey. For those of us within organisations that have positive narratives firmly in place, the promotion of these stories reaffirms not only the organisation’s directional focus, but also the knowledge that they take their people seriously. And who doesn’t like remembering they work within an organisation that has their back?
Sharing personal stories, be they based on career progression, personal development or overcoming particularly arduous challenges can be a powerful and emotive way to connect people with purpose.
But such stories aren’t always easy to tell. What do you include? How do you make sure the important parts are covered? What’s the format? And what questions should be answered?
We’ve done a lot of thinking about the Hero’s Journey and by following that tried and tested 12 stage structure, we’ve developed a closely linked template to collate and circulate the stories of our organisations’ heroes. We hope it will help you too.
When gathering your employees’ adventures and experiences, consider asking the following questions as a way to structure those stories and share them across your organisation…
- What made you take the leap and start this journey?
- What, if any, were your initial expectations?
- What were you hoping to come away with when you started?
- What challenges or setbacks did you face along the way?
- Who supported you while on this journey?
- How did they help or inspire you?
- As you progressed, did any part of your journey change? How?
- What, if any, were your misgivings?
- Were there any parts of your journey that you would have changed? What were they?
- How were your expectations met?
- Did you achieve what you wanted to? How?
- What advice would you give to colleagues considering their own personal journey?
As we said at the very beginning, there’s nothing better to hear than ‘good news’ stories. It’s important to cut through the noise with something that will put smiles on faces and spark inspiration. Those who have been on their own Hero’s Journey set out into the unknown and, whether every part of it was or wasn’t positive, something would have been learnt and taken away for the next part of the story and for those yet to start their own.
No matter what’s happening on a day-to-day basis in your organisation, there’s nothing better than the promotion of ‘good news’ stories. Whether it’s a promotion, a great piece of project work or fundraising for a good cause, they’re important to share organisation-wide because they also have the ability to do some great things for inspiring others. And even if they only inspire one person, that’s a success.
With the assistance of our story capturing framework, we hope that you’ll be able to paint a captivating picture for employees across your organisation, setting the stage clearly and honestly, hailing and celebrating your people as conquering heroes at The End.