As I prepare for my family’s 44th annual camping trip to Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada’s, I recall the stories that are told and retold each year. The family history, the bear stories, the ‘Michael fell face down right into a pool of mud while attempting to cross the log’ story, etc. My parents started this annual tradition as an inexpensive way to provide a vacation for their large family, but it’s become an annual event that we all look forward to every summer.
I’ve begun to understand the value of these stories over time. They provide us with a sense of connection to the past and they deepen the bond of the family relationships. They allow us to reminisce and laugh together which creates a tight interwoven history of our experiences. I recognize that the importance of these stories and this tradition in developing solid relationships with my family members is no different than the stories and traditions within an organization that create a unique and strong culture.
According to Wikipedia, “Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values.”
In organizations, the leaders and employees can strengthen their culture and core values by effective storytelling. Stories can be powerful messages that can be repeated throughout the company to remind folks of where the organization has been and how to handle situations as they arise. In addition, they can be a huge source of camaraderie and humor which also helps bond the team.
I look at my own experiences… It was more than 20 years ago, but I still remember the leader of the company for which I worked telling me about when he and his wife sat across from each other at their coffee table, figuring out which bills to pay with limited funds when they first opened their business. I remember thinking about the risk and determination they had to eventually grow their company into a $100 million plus organization.
Within my company, we have many stories that are retold at our social events and meetings. For instance, the time I got locked in the bathroom corridor on a Sunday afternoon for more than four hours until I finally broke down the door. While this story may not reinforce any of our values, it provides us with a hearty laugh.
On a more serious side, there is the story of the former clients who hired us a few months after purchasing a company with the intention of growing the business. Within the first few weeks of our engagement, we realized that these clients purchased a company in an industry that had just gone through some major changes and was essentially collapsing. Our clients’ customers had previously received funding from the state to pay for the training services our clients provided, and now our clients were losing money. They couldn’t pay their bank loan, and they feared losing their home. Our team decided to refund these clients’ fees, and we helped them pro bono through the transition of closing their business as well as negotiating with their bank so that they would not lose their home to which the business loan was tied.
This story within our organization supports our core values about what really matters in the work we do – it’s about empowering others as well as doing the right thing and not just earning a fee.
What stories are told within your organization? Are they setting the tone you want? Are they conveying the right message to your team?
If you’re not telling stories as a leader, make sure to incorporate them into your meetings and social events with your team. They provide a common thread of understanding and allow you to reinforce the core beliefs for which you and your organization stand.
This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at www.Collaboration-llc.com.
Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at www.Collaboration-llc.com.