Storytelling has been part of our culture for most of human development. It has been used by every society that has ever been studied. It was and is a way to educate (pass on) values and rules of behavior. Stories, as part of tradition, keep alive truths and values that have been developed in the past. Thus they become guide-posts for creating new ideas and visions for the future. This is true for a tribe in the rain forest of South America to a multi-national corporation. Corporate storytelling protects an organization’s values (heritage) and points the way to its future. One just needs to think of companies such as Disney, Nike, Ford Motor Company to see this principle in action.
Your Sacred Bundle
One of the important uses for these types of stories comes into place with an organization’s leadership, from executive to manager. Peg Neuhauser, in her book Tribal Warfare in Organizations, talks about the concept of a Sacred Bundle. This is the collection of key stories about the company’s past that represents its important values or characteristics. Often these are seen as useless information – company ego trips. This is not the type of corporate storytelling we are talking about.
It is the responsibility of the leadership to pass on the identity of the company. It is not the fault of the employees if it does not get passed on. Even though we are in the digital age, and oral storytelling is not the main source of information, the thousands-of-years-old responsibility of the tribe (organization’s) leadership to pass on its traditions and values still exists, or the vision is lost.
Your Corporate Mythology:
As a leader or manager, it is your responsibility to pass on the organization’s mythology (does not imply myth or lie). Your mythology should answer:
- Where did we come from?
- What is the purpose of our organization?
- With whom do we belong?
- What are each of our duties and obligations?
- What is taboo?
- Who are the enemies?
Thus one of the responsibilities of a leader/manager is to teach and guide through stories. For years after Walt Disney’s death, employees would share their “Walt” stories about what Disney stood for and why they have loyalty to the company even after his death.
A teaching through story – an example
David Armstrong, the fourth generation of his family to run Armstrong International, had decided to write about his unique management style. He wrote Managing by Storying Around. In this book he shares many of the stories that have been captured and used as management tools. The following is a brief summary of the Cafeteria Story used as part of their employee training.
“In our cafeteria, food and drinks are available to the employees. We do not have a cashier. In fact there is an open cash box. Employees are asked to deposit in the box cash for what they had taken. The box is not locked. At the end of the day, there has never been cash missing and it has always reconciled with cafeteria food and drinks inventory at the end of the day.”
At the end of the story, David Armstrong then presents the moral of the story:
If you trust your employees then demonstrate that trust. If you do not trust them, then fire them.
The summary does not do justice to David’s storytelling abilities but it shows the power of the story when used by management.
Not Just One Story
We often think of corporate storytelling as it relates to the founding of an organization. That meeting over a cup of coffee and a new idea emerges on a napkin – powerful stories but there are many more stories that can be used by management.
- To Inspire Self-Management
- To Make People Brave and Wise
- About Core Values
- About Heroic People in the Organization
- To Kick-Start Urgency
- That Make Policy Manuals Obsolete
- About Dealing With Trouble Makers
- To Honor Quality and Service
- To Honor Partnerships
- To Boost Creativity
- To Make Everyone a Leader
- To Inspire Innovation
- To Get People To Communicate About Things Worth Communicating About
- About Finding New Sources of Profit
- About How To Tell Stories