Stories tie us to the past of our business, explain our current state, and help us reach our desired state. You can use those stories to help build a positive, growth-oriented, collaborative culture in your company.
If you’re the founder of one of the early employees in your business, are you sharing the story of why the company began? The story of why you started helps define the values and mission for employees today, veterans and newcomers alike. It’s at the core of your business, and if you haven’t communicated it, your culture will suffer.
Other stories are important too. When you first broke the million-dollar sales figures. When you landed your first customer. When you lost a big customer, and how you recovered. The first time you embarrassed yourself at the company picnic–yes, even the embarrassing stories are important.
Compensation is rarely a reason given for people leaving an employer. They leave because of poor communication, lack of respect, or lack of clear leadership. People want to work with and for people who have a vision for the future, and a past that is transparent.
Two guys once started a transportation company because they had lost confidence in their employer and wanted to go out and build a company that they would like to work for. Seeing an opportunity, they bolted from their current state and ventured into the unknown, creating amazing stories along the way.
Those stories became the backbone of a successful business, empowering employees, and lead to an eventual ownership transition that preserved the culture they built. Their longtime mission statement included a statement that put employees first–after customers of course–with the sentence: «By meeting the needs of our customers we serve the best interests of our employees, vendors, and stockholders.»
Granted, these two guys weren’t any kind of experts, and I can’t say they had a formal plan, but the core issue of creating a company they would like to work for was behind almost every decision they made. The stories that followed that initial decision, about the cease and desist order (previous employers take non-competes seriously), about the early days, the first big customer, the first branch office, and some of the characters that populated the payroll, were always part of the discussion at company meetings, formal and informal. The culture of making a great workplace was ingrained and continued long after the founders left to play with their putters (woods and irons too).
So put your stories to work. They should be, at the least, semi-true. They should celebrate successes, and put failures into context. You should even share them with customers and vendors.
When working on your stories, remember the old newspaper writer’s questions of, «Who, What, When, Where, and Why?» In the first couple sentences of every story that you tell, you need to answer those questions, and the most important question is WHY?
Tell your stories, let people know who you are, what you’ve done, and where you’re going and you’ll find them collaborating in building your business. And when they know the WHY of your business, they’ll create some amazing things with you.