What stories are told in your workplace? It’s an important question because the kind of stories that are told around your organization are an indication of what is important to the company’s members (from senior leaders to frontline staff).

Stories are powerful because they connect themes and values to our humanness – to our hearts, to our natural desire for meaning and interpersonal connection.

We humans are rarely inspired by facts and figures. We are frequently inspired by stories of how our efforts helped feed the hungry or provide skill-building for the unemployed so they find a job. Such stories not only inspire our pride but they inspire us to action in ways that facts and figures rarely do.

Because stories describe what is important in an organization’s culture and they inspire action, leaders must be intentional about the stories that are told. Let me share an example from my fabulous employer, the Ken Blanchard Companies.

Praising & Recognizing Recovery

In the late 90’s our company was going through a growth spurt that was fun, exciting – and stretched our systems to the max. A colleague was on the road, checking materials and room set up in a hotel late in the afternoon before the following day’s session with senior leaders of a new client. Everything looked good until she checked the envelope with the leader effectiveness profiles and discovered they were for attendees at the following week’s class. Not good.

She called our Escondido, CA headquarters and explained the problem. The project manager found the right profiles and said she’d get them overnighted for delivery by 10:30am the next day. The consultant said that would be great. One of our fulfillment staff checked with the delivery service. The last flight out of San Diego airport was at 6pm that night. The only way the profiles would get delivered on time was by driving the profiles to the airport. He got permission to drive down and delivered the envelope with minutes to spare!

His efforts were widely praised – he definitely went above and beyond the call of duty. AND – there were logical consequences that the original error caused: panic, heroics, non-billable expenses, and more. This powerful story subtly shifted employee attention to recovering from mis-steps as opposed to proactively eliminating errors like this so the need for recovery would be eliminated.

Such errors have been rare over the past 10 years because of the emphasis on getting the right products to the right place at the right time.

Storytelling Guidelines

Be intentional. Work hard to ensure that every story told in your workplace validates your desired corporate culture. Identify and highlight stories that meet these criteria:

  • The story clarifies and elevates your organization’s core purpose and values.
  • The story is about real, caring people serving real, caring people
  • The story is simple, brief, and clear
  • The story describes the beneficial impact on the customer, the company, and possibly even the community at large

With effective stories, your desired culture will be more widely embraced, more quickly.

Join in the conversation! Let us know what your experience is with workplace storytelling in the comments section below.

Learn more about my new book, #POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet, written with the delightful Lisa Zigarmi. You can view our video on why we wrote the book, get a FREE excerpt (and automatically be entered in our monthly contest for the entire ebook), and more!

Photo © iStockphoto.com/biffspandex

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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