Workplace Motivation

Release the power of storytelling

Workplace Motivation

Release the power of storytelling

Is workplace motivation the most important aspect of good management? 

Motivation may be complex and subjective but there can be no doubting the impact it has on people and organisations. Indeed, unless it is understood and managed effectively, few organisations will flourish.

Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y is one of the better known management and leadership theories. McGregor believed that managers’ perceptions on basic human attitudes and behaviour were polarised. ‘Theory X’ managers assumed that people inherently avoided work and responsibility, and thus need close monitoring and control. Such an approach assumed that motivation was largely extrinsic in nature.

‘Theory Y’ managers assume the opposite, believing that people are energised by work and are motivated more by intrinsic factors, such as responsibility, challenge and opportunities to develop. It probably won’t come as a surprise to know that we’re more Y than Z managers! We believe that most employees are naturally pre-disposed to enthusiasm for their work, demonstrating an inherent preference for engagement and achievement.

Ironically, it can be managers themselves who dampen this ardour, through either poor management or a lack of understanding of what workplace motivation is all about.

Two quotes make this point rather succinctly:

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.” (Peter Drucker).

“… the key question is not how to motivate employees, but how to sustain – and prevent management from destroying – the motivation that employees naturally bring to their jobs.” (David Sirota, et al).

Our Motivation Knowledge Hub contains numerous articles and tips to help you to manage motivation in the workplace. On this page we’ve added some insights into one particularly effective technique, storytelling. Often overlooked, managers would do well to release the power of storytelling to inform, entertain and motivate in the workplace.  Professor Jay Conger is the Henry R. Kravis Research Chair in Leadership Studies, at Claremont McKenna College. A world-renowned academic, author and consultant on business leadership, Conger is also an advocate of the power and effectiveness of story telling as a management tool:

Stories have enormous power in terms of recall. If you look at statistics, or at PowerPoint, or at documents, what you discover from all the research is that there is almost no recall. What will be remembered are a few compelling stories that you share with your organization and with your team. And those will guide them when they are far away from you – which, by the way, is much of the day.— Professor Jay Conger

Stories for workplace motivation

Storytelling can be useful for inducting new staff into an organisation’s history and culture. They ideal for adding context or relevance to on-going training or staff development sessions. And stories which have a strategic point can be powerful management tools. They are far more effectively recalled than other presentational tools or methods. Well-told stories can be remembered and used to inform and inspire staff, when they are learning, under pressure, flagging in energy or enthusiasm, or working in isolation. Or all of these at once, which is something faced by many managers responding to the challenges of the global pandemic.

How to craft a good strategic story
  • Keep it short – no more then 1.5 – 2.5 minutes.
  • Don’t include more than 2- 3 characters.
  • Keep it simple – based on a single message.
  • Tell it in the present tense – as if it’s happening now.
  • Use visual imagery tied to the theme – people remember mental pictures.
  • Repeat a phrase or word as the essence of the message.

Now follow the link below to watch another interesting take on how to use stories to motivate in the workplace.

Storytelling at work

When you’ve done, think about this summary of his main points. In: How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool, Dan Schwabel advises  7 elements tips for turning good stories into great stories:

  1. Start with the context.
  2. Use metaphors and analogies.
  3. Appeal to emotion.
  4. Keep it tangible and concrete.
  5. Include a surprise.
  6. Use a narrative style appropriate for business.
  7. Move beyond telling your audience a story to creating a scene or event for them to participate in.

You’ll find stories all over this site, as a tool for illustrating or re-inforcing points we’ve made. Some of these are summarised on our leadership and motivational stories pages. Read through them then reflect on Jay Conger’s tips to see if you can release the power of stories to enhance your workplace motivation.

Leading Insights

If you’re interested in developing your leadership skills, take a look at one of our leadership e-guides. Leading Insights is packed with more leadership stories, and some leading insights into how they can be used! Insights such as:

  • Uncommon insights
  • Tipping point leadership
  • Find the glass
  • Leaders need to be cathedral thinkers
  • Would you recommend your service/organisation to your friends?
  • Putting on a performance
  • Would people pay to see your team perform?
  • Bricolage leadership
  • Resourceful leadership
  • Nudging leadership
  • Mirror leadership
  • Chameleon leadership
  • Catalyst leadership
  • Chrysalis leadership
  • Saliency, sagacity and serendipity
  • Infectious leadership
  • Infected leadership
  • Great work days
  • Defining moments
  • Conveying what you care about
  • The kind of goals leaders set matters
  • Motivating leaders


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