Episode 033 – A Business Episode – Using Story to Discover and Define Company Culture
John sat at his desk, shuffling papers back and forth. He’d recently taken over the marketing of his mortgage company and he was trying to figure out what he was doing wrong. He posted on FB, Instagram, Twitter, all the spaces they felt they could reach their customers, but they weren’t getting much response. How could he improve interaction with his potential clients?
Jillian had just been promoted to head of a sales team. She knew that each team was like a family here at ABC and she was now the new leader. How was she going to set up her team dynamic? How was she going to create camaraderie, action, and a highly motivated team?
The Bright and Shiny window company had been around for twenty years. They were well established and had their way of doing things. Now suddenly, when they needed to hire new people they were being asked about company culture. What in the hell is company culture? And why should we care?
I. What is company culture?
Company culture forms, if not purposefully, then organically, by the values (do you value innovation?), management styles (perform or die; Open door support, family style), attitudes and energies of the employees and the perks and benefits that create loyalty, fun, and buy-in with your employees. This culture defines the often unwritten but very real rules of behavior.
How do your employees act when you are not around? What do they expect from the company? Do your employees and your clients feel connected and loyal? Do your programs create space for innovation or are your people highly regulated? Do you provide extra programs like a gym membership or monthly family get together to build relationships of loyalty with your employees or clients? Does your company become a part of the employees or clients story and make that connection? What does the company expect, value and reward from its employees? What will the company provide, incentivize and tolerate? The answers to these questions can easily outline the company culture.
There is an interesting article in Entrepreneur magazine, from last year, 10 examples of companies with fantastic culture. I want to share this with you because it provides real life examples of what defined and successful company cultures look like. Then, I’d love for you to share with the group what you feel your company culture is…good or bad, undefined, or well defined.
II.WHY CREATE IT ON PURPOSE?
Company culture has always been around, it’s unavoidable, but it’s only been in recent history that successful companies have started to create it on purpose.
Why? For a number of reasons
- The new millennial workforce (70%) is as concerned with company culture as they are with pay and benefits. Working with a company that has similar values and in which they feel they are a valuable part of the family in which they become a part of the company story builds loyalty and longevity in a group that frankly isn’t known for either. Does it make their story look good?
- It’s the future. The speed at which business ideas and platform are changing is difficult to keep up with. Air BNB, Uber, Periscope, Google, Zappos, Twitter…these companies that are thriving are paying very close attention to company culture. It’s an important new aspect of doing business. And certainly, one that is working.
- Why leave something so important to chance? It’s going to be there, you might as well create it with purpose because it affects your reputation, your customer and employee loyalty, your retention of employees, your bottom line.
III. How does story align as a tool for company culture development and why would you want to use it?
- Story is the genre that every human being, regardless of culture, class, nationality, or even slot in history, has always understood.
The human mind will engage and stay engaged with a story far more easily and for far longer than any other form of communication. In addition, story gives us a framework for remembering the information longer. We become communities through shared experience. Story has the mysterious capacity to connect, engage, and bring people together. Stories build rapport. Stories show how you overcame something difficult, or they demonstrate how we screwed up and they become a warning. Stories are the brain’s most effortless path for parsing information so people will pay attention to them. They are the most potent force for engagement. The real question would be why WOULDN’T you use story as a tool in business. When you know how to use it you have real power at your fingertips.
2. Versatile Power
These stories are powerful ways to show employees what you expect of them. They are marketing tools to show clients what you stand for and why they should use you. They can be used to get management and investors in-line with your vision and where you are going – all with your own powerful stories. All of these play a role in your culture.
3. Modern Social Media is all about communicating your story.
VI. Lets start with Identity Stories or Origin Stories
Ask yourself – What does it mean to be us?
This is a question answered every time an American sings the story of the Star Spangled Banner. Every time the Jews retell the story of the Exodus. This is a story that defines for you, for your company, for your employees, for your clients, where you came from and why that matters to them.
What was the beginning of your team or business? What was true at the beginning of the organization that is still true today?
This is the origin story from General Electric:
“The year was 1876, America’s centennial. It was also the year that Thomas Alva Edison opened a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Out of that laboratory came the greatest invention of the age — a successful incandescent electric lamp (a light bulb). After a merger in 1892, he called his new organization General Electric. Today, that same spirit of innovation and discovery is still a part of everything we do.”
Once Upon A Time there were three students at the University of SanFrancisco who became friends. One became an English teacher, one a history teacher, and one a writer. In 1971 they met a man named Alfred Peet, who showed them his special coffee roasting technique, and the three decided to start a company that sold high-quality coffee beans and equipment. They named their company after the first mate in the book Moby Dick and they threw their fortunes in together for better or for worse because they found a quality product. That’s what we are about – that’s what we’ve always been about – quality coffee.
Rieger & Co., a Kansas City distillery
Largely known for its trademark Monogram whiskey, Rieger was founded in 1887 and this company was a huge part of local Kansas City culture; the Rieger family even built an impressive hotel that was famous for being one of Al Capone’s regular haunts. The Rieger company’s success continued until Prohibition caused them to close their doors in 1919. In 2014, nearly a century after the business was forced to close, one of J. Rieger’s descendants revitalized the business. Kansas City residents greeted the new distillery with enthusiasm, a great part of Kansas City’s history was restored.
Now, the whiskey company aligns its modern brand to the city’s history by showcasing a timeline on the website with photos of the artifacts from the original business. Being rooted in local history and culture gives the J. Rieger name a unique kind of credibility with local residents, and the Prohibition-era origin story creates a mystique that’s almost irresistible to consumers.
What is your origin story and how can it be used to help define what you’re about? When you share it in sales meetings your employees gain understanding of where the company comes from, what it expects, and it gives them roots, in a way, with the company, as the employee becomes part of the story.
What does your team value? Are you a team that focuses on quality? On customer service? On speed of the deal? On hassle free? On value for your client? On the newest technologies? To keep these values from ringing hollow in your ears and your client’s ears – to keep there from being a disconnect between your stated values and your actual values, have a story or stories to back them up. These are the “how” stories of your team. These are the stories that set behavioral boundaries for people on your team.
Examples: (Listen for the details)
- Food Manufacturing
- Management Style
- Les Schwab Video
These were stories that could be used, instead of graphs, charts and propaganda, to show, not tell, what the company stands for to employees and customers.
Vision: Where are YOU going? Typically this comes in something like a vision statement, but to truly invite people (usually your team or investors) into your vision it’s even better to use a story.
WORLD BANK example:
In June 1995, a health worker in a tiny town in Zambia logged on to a website for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and got an answer to a question on how to treat malaria…This was in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world. The health worker used this advanced research, thousands of miles away, to save lives.
The most important part of this story for us in the World Bank is this: The World Bank doesn’t have its know-how accessible to all the millions of people who make decisions about poverty and money making across the world. But just imagine if we did. Think what an organization we could become, think of the growth, think of the influence.
Tools: How to create Vision Stories
- Comparison: a – This is where we are b – This is where we want to be
- Or, make up a future story of what your company looks like in 1 year, in 5 years…however far out your vision is.
- What does your company look like in 5 years?
- What are your customers saying about you?
- What growth have you seen?
- What is your competition saying about you?
- What looks different?
Share this vision story often, so that everyone is working to create the same thing!
The combination of these types of stories – Origin, values and vision stories can be the means, the building blocks, for defining, building and sharing your company culture with your employees and management, as well as with your clients or customers.
What does this look like? How do you utilize these stories in real life management?
- Find them
- Use them in sales meetings to show (not tell) employees what’s expected.
- Use them in management meetings to illustrate what is expected of them, to define what the company stands for, to share your vision of where you’re going. To get everyone on the same page.
- Use them in your marketing campaigns to show your clients what you’re about.
- Use them on your websites and in video, social media, to define your values, to highlight your customers, and to sell your products.
- Have a set of stories available that show your company culture in action. When Mel, or someone else you’re hiring or working with asks about your company culture you can paint a vivid, strong picture by sharing the stories that show what you where you’re from, what you stand for, and how your employees and management interact
So, get excited, start digging through the stories that have accumulated while you’ve done business – stories of successes, stories of failures, stories that show your values, and you can even start recording new stories as they happen, deciding later how you might use them – starting a story repository. Our stories are powerful tools that we can learn to work with the many other pieces of running a successful business.
And, if any of you are sitting there saying, wow – I don’t know where to start, I wish someone could help me figure out my stories and how to use them, I’m happy to work with you on a consulting basis.
*Some stories and concepts taken from David Hutchins book – The Circle of the 9 Muses