I was co-running a workshop yesterday with a group of around 50 delightful engineers, partners, co-owners and leaders in the one of the world’s most prestigious consultancies.

I could write several blogs on this workshop – and I probably will! – but I wanted to jot down two key learnings from the event yesterday.

The workshop was structured around story-telling. Each partner had to bring a story which they felt reflected one of the, or even THE, fundamental value/s of the practice.

The first lesson of engagement here was how much easier it was to get the partners to participate by getting them to think and tell stories about what happened to them. There was a sense of community in the room. I think I can best describe it by saying it was like an AA meeting or charismatic event. Neither of these is the right parallel but I don’t think it’s wrong that I was reminded of very personal, sometimes painful, sometimes spiritual declarations. Each partner leapt up with enthusiasm to share their story. It was a wonderful example of engagement.

The second lesson was that each partner had been given a simple three point crib sheet around which to structure their story. They had to tell the story in one or two sentences. Explain in another couple of sentences why they felt it was important. Then try to reduce this to one word.

Now of course this is a group of well-educated, senior managers, who can cope with this stuff. But I was struck by the quality of the output.

What was then interesting was listening to a 28 year old reflect on the list of values which the senior partners – most in their late 40s and 50s – had enumerated.

He was a most wise, politic and diplomatic 28 year old, but there was no question that the stories that were being told were somewhat alien to him.

He noted that most of the stories were dredged up from the quite distant past from the early years of the business, when it was a tiny practice run by a small close knit team of friends. The business is now global with thousands of employees.

Why weren’t some of the stories more recent?

And the second was that he questioned some of the so-called fundamental values of the practice would have value to up and coming employees beyond the room.

Here is the lesson I extracted: engagement has got to be on everyone’s terms, not just those of management. If you want people to believe in the values and strategies you present, it has to relate to them.

Afterwards I was chatting to one or two of the partners, and we had a conversation that I’ve had many times before about how ‘the younger generation’ just didn’t get it. I laughed and reminded the group that we were sounding like old people.

Engaging employees almost always involves engaging much younger generations who aren’t going to ‘get it’. The point is that if you want to engage them, you have to get them.

It reminded of a belief I have and which I often use when I’m feeling thwarted.

If you want to change something, change yourself.

Deborah Lewis: PR and engagement expert

Deborah’s 20 year career has been focused on helping businesses with complex messages, often operating in challenging and commoditised sectors. From tissues to chocolate, from software engineering to change management consulting, Deborah’s skill lies in assisting management in identifying the right voice for the business and defining strong and compelling stories which will resonate across audiences.

An entrepreneur, Deborah set up a PR consultancy in 2007 which became one of the largest corporate and business to business independents in the UK, with a reputation for high quality and customer care, and achieving results where other agencies had failed.