Building Org Cultures Through Storytelling

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SecretTHE Tale, the Parable, and the Fable are all common and popular modes of conveying instruction. The Tale is a story either founded on facts, or sometimes just a figment of  imagination. There are no moral lessons expected to be learned. The Parable is intended to convey secret meanings.  Fables are intended to impact human behavior through the stories and the characters. Good and bad characters are clearly demarcated.  Aesops fables have become a part of our everyday language. The story of the thirsty crow dropping pebbles in a pitcher to raise up the level of water is one of the first lessons in innovation we learned. The moral of the story is explicitly stated at the end eg “Necessity is the mother of invention” in case of the Crow and the Pitcher story.

Fables work not just for kids but also adults. Some writers have used fables to drive lessons in leadership. Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fantastic example of a fable being used to help leaders understand how to build better teams. He states the five dysfunctions being: (1) Absence of Trust (2) Fear of Conflict (3) Lack of Commitment (4) Unwillingness to Hold One Another Accountable (5) Inattention to Results. I love the way the book takes the story of a leader trying to build a team at the top and the challenges she goes through. You read the book like you would read a story but then at the end of each chapter the dysfunction is pointed out and a clear message is given to the reader. You can almost hear Lencioni speaking to you.

Check out the video of Lencioni talk about this book:

The best ads are like short stories. I just love the way in 30 seconds they can tell you a story that persuades you to go and buy their product. Those are the most powerful communicators. Some stories are so great that they will often overshadow the product the commercial is promoting. People remember the story but not the message. I believe that the effective leaders use stories to create the glue that binds organizations. “Storytelling is the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolkit.” says Dr. Howard Gardner , Author, Changing Minds and Harvard University professor.

Just look at what happens when alumni meet. they all exchange stories about the gruelling study schedule, the unreasonable Profs and their quirks; the salacious gossip about their colleagues. My first novel Mediocre But Arrogant was a story built around the nostalgia we all experience when we look back on our college days.

In organizations there are enough stories traded at the watercooler or when the employees meet after office hours. When the trainees go back to their college after internship, they trade stories and these often will shape the organization’s brand far more than any corporate campaign ever can or will.

IDEA: Design your onboarding experience for new joinees entirely around your organization’s stories

Here are ten great ideas for stories your organization could have. Stories build pride in the workplace and can be a useful way of reinforcing the values the company stands for. When you hear stories that people share about the leaders, their quirks, their triumphs and responses to various scenarios, you build a bond with employees that is hard to match.

1. “Founding” – A company’s beginning and early challenges.
2. “Family” – The role of the founding family.
3. “Conflict and struggle” – The challenges the brand overcame on the way to success.
4. “Triumph and tragedy” – The ups and downs of the firm and its people.
5. “Creation” – How the brand came to be, including innovative problem solving and a passion for its products.
6. “History” – The role the brand and its founders played in the past.
7. “Community” – The brand’s influence on its community.
8. “Place” – The link between the brand and its physical location.
9. “Consumers” – Stories that originate with the brand user.
10. “Product” and “service” – The saga of the merchandise or service itself.

Source: Building Brand Authenticity by Michael Beverland

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Comments

  1. Great post! The development sector depends largely on building organizational cultures and capacity through story telling. In fact, all inductions, trainings and vision casting sessions, fundraising pitches have started to use this style very proactively and in a continuous manner. Media based development ventures also use this style.
    Patrick Lencioni is definitely one of the best writers in this space. Paul Polak too has an interesting style of using real stories to find solutions to bottom of the pyramid problems.

  2. A well written and to-the-point post.

    Another important dimension of story telling is building ones individual brand. The same technique that you suggest organizations should use need to be practiced by individuals themselves to build better relations with clients, employers and colleagues. Story telling is truly one of the strongest forms of brand building and each person/entity should use it to their advantage. But the golden rule is to stay true and not to go over the top just for the sake of being creative and effective.

  3. Abhijit, Thank you for a very well-written and practical article. We often hear how important stories are to a culture, but I like that you have included some suggestions for types of stories to emphasize. In addition to the story topics, I like Terrence Deal’s inclusion of stories about heroes and heroines, which help to cement the actions that the culture admires and wants to emulate.

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