For centuries, tribes of all kinds have utilized storytelling to support their desired culture. In man’s early history, those stories were told around the campfire each evening, with tribe members going to sleep with a clear image of preferred tribe behaviors, values, and norms in their minds.

Today, stories about your organization are told around the water cooler, at the corner cafe, the parking lot, the internet, and everywhere in between. The question is are the stories being told within your organization today the right stories that clarify your desired culture?

Storytelling is one of the most effective and impactful methods for communicating the desired culture of your organization to its members. Stories serve to describe the behaviors and values that you want organization members to demonstrate, with each interaction, internally and externally, day in and day out.

The types of stories that are told around your organization are indicators of what is important to the organization’s members. If the right stories are being told and retold, your desired culture will get stronger. If the wrong stories are being told and retold, your desired culture will have a very tough time gaining traction.

Example of a Powerful Yet Lacking Story

This story doesn’t highlight the organization’s desired culture. One of my clients had shipped materials for an event to the coordinator in the hosting city. The coordinator checked the materials two days before the event started and discovered the wrong materials had been sent. The client scrambled to print the right materials and get them ready for shipment ASAP. Shipping required one of their staff to drive the boxes to the airport headquarters of their preferred shipper – just before the shipper’s 8pm deadline for accepting packages. The overnight shipment arrived at the hotel at 10:30am the next day, just hours before the event’s early afternoon start. The coordinator was thrilled – and the story began making the rounds, praising the graphic artists, the printers, the shipping crew, and the staff member who drove the boxes to the airport.

What’s wrong with this story? It deservedly celebrates great skill application and teamwork to solve the problem. However, this is a recovery story – the core issue is the problem should never have occurred in the first place! Quality testing would have noted the wrong materials were being prepared before they originally shipped . . . and no recovery would have been required. A lot of people had to drop what they were doing and address this issue; that’s a lot of hours spent. The overnight shipping charges alone were over $300! This was a costly recovery – and doesn’t present the desired culture this clients strives for, which is “doing it right the first time, every time!”

Elements of an Effective Story

Use these three criteria to identify stories that promote clarity and enthusiasm for your desired culture.

  • Be simple, brief, and clear.
  • Tell the story with passion for the values it demonstrates.
  • Elevate the desired values and behaviors by describing their application and their impact.

Effective stories can teach without lecturing. Be a proactive scout of great values stories in your work environment! Ensure the right stories, that reinforce your desired culture, have a long life within your organization.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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