Organization-story-heroOnce upon a time… in a BIG northern city, there lived and worked two delivery drivers – one that worked for UPS and one that worked for FedEx.  One day, the FedEx driver’s delivery truck broke down with numerous packages yet to be delivered before 5:00 pm.

What was the driver to do???!!! The clever driver hatched a plan. She got out of her truck and began running with the packages to get them to their delivery destinations. It wasn’t long before she was exhausted and realized that at this pace, she would never be able to deliver all the packages on time. Suddenly, she noticed a UPS driver down the street and a thought came to mind – “I know, I will get the UPS driver to drive me around in their truck to make my deliveries!” So she approached the UPS driver and pleaded for help. To her amazement the UPS driver agreed to her request!

Although it was a hectic day of double deliveries, working together the UPS driver and the FedEx driver were able to save the day and deliver every last package to its destination before 5:00 pm – after all, “it absolutely, positively had to be there overnight!”

What OC Do Your Legends and Lore Inspire??

Have you ever listened – really listened – to the stories that your employees tell in and out of your workplace? Are they positive, uplifting stories about saving a customer, working together, or surviving a catastrophe? Are they inspiring stories about coworkers that created glory for the team? Do they talk about conversations with customers that inspires the direction and outcome of product development, marketing, and customer relationships?

Or, are your organizational stories more about complaining and commiserating? Management didn’t like my idea or didn’t listen to me. They expected too much from me and failed to provide the tools and resources I needed to succeed. And, the perennially disempowering story about, “they wouldn’t let me.” Whether these stories are true or not doesn’t matter; they kill employees’ dreams of stability, challenge, recognition, belonging, development, and contribution.

Do your employees’ stories about the workplace reinforce your desired OC and tout the characteristics of your best employees? Or do they present a picture of an OC that is undermining both your organization’s success and your employees’ success.

How Legends and Lore Support Your OC

The tone and content of the stories your employees tell over and over are the glue that binds them together – shaping, strengthening and reinforcing your OC. What your employees share in and out of the workplace, with each other and with customers, vendors, and potential employees becomes imprinted on your organizational psyche. And, like the little voice in your head that talks to you all day long, these legends form the core of the shared organizational experience.

Legends and lore hold even more significance for new employees in your organization. What other employees tell them to expect powerfully frames their perceptions and experiences. New employees, especially, find their thinking imperceptibly influenced by the work stories. They listen to the work stories to learn about your OC and how to get things done. They use these stories to create expectations around their relationship with leaders and co-workers. Without awareness, they will develop patterns of behavior and respond based on the expectations formulated by the stories rather than reality.

So, given that employees tell stories; legends and lore affect and shape OC, often imperceptibly;  and new employees are most influenced from day one by the stories they hear. So, what’s an organization to do? The tide of employee negativity can be stemmed. And you can reinforce the inspiring components of the the organizational legends and lore employees share to drive high performance.

Using Legends and Lore to Reinforce OC

Today the story above is used by BOTH UPS and FedEx to train new employees about their respective organizational cultures (OC). For FedEx, it’s about doing whatever it takes to get the job done – for UPS it’s about providing superior customer service even if that means helping the competition.

Ensure That Your Legends and Lore Emulate Your Desired OC

To ensure that your workplace stories are inspiring, enabling, and reinforcing for your desired OC, try the following:

  1. Identify which work stories abound in your workplace. Listen to the chatter. Ask employees what kinds of stories they hear and tell in the workplace. This step is illuminating and will help you develop a picture of how work stories are currently affecting your OC.
  2. Change the stories. If the stories being told don’t support your desired OC, bring together a cross-functional team of employees to change the stories. Forming the team and listening to the stories are the first steps in changing your workplace stories because you now have a team of committed employees who are listening and aware of the power of stories in your OC.
  3. Make time to share stories. Make time to share positive, inspiring stories at every employee meeting regularly held in your organization. Make a commitment as a leadership team to walk your talk and reinforce the desired OC with positive work stories.
  4. Tie employee rewards and recognition to a powerfully positive story about the contribution. Write the story down and share it with the employee receiving recognition. Recognize the employee publicly by telling the story about his or her positive contribution. There is always a story when a manager wants to recognize an employee with a gift card or check. Make sure the story is told, written, and publicized. (On the plus side, other employees want to know what is necessary to gain recognition. Stories help illuminate the path.)
  5. Routinely relive the moments at company events. Weave stories of organizational heroes and heroism into the company history and retell it in your handbook and new employee orientation. Talk about the founding of the company and all of the milestone events along the way.
  6. Make sure that managers and mentors know about the importance of stories in influencing employee performance. Make sure that these influencers tell stories about work that reinforce the qualities of the OC you want to create. Make work and employee stories a significant component in new employee orientation and employee life.

Everyone loves a good story. It’s the glue that binds an organization together, reinforcing the OC and reminding us of the good times and bad times we’ve survived – together!