The Moral of the Story

By Kathryn Tyler Apr 1, 2011
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One of the best ways to remind employees about company values is through company stories—legends and parables. “The stories people tell around the water cooler become the culture. The organization is the stories everybody tells each other. It doesn’t matter what you have on the wall,” says Phillip Wilson, president of the Labor Relations Institute Inc. headquartered in Broken Arrow, Okla.

“One of my favorite first questions is, ‘If I were to hang out in the break room for a day or two, tell me a story I would hear about this place.’ ”

Wilson cites a restaurant group whose employees told him about the founder whose partner died when they had three locations. The founder ran all three sites by himself for months. “That story reinforces the idea of speed, of having to do a lot of things at once, and working hard.”

Wilson says when leaders use “real-life examples and real stories where we’ve done great things” the values are not just wall plaques. “Have discussions around those different behaviors. Reinforce them with internal communications. Have a consistent drumbeat about the things we value,” says Wilson.

Barbara Jobs, talent officer at VivaKi Nerve Center in Chicago, agrees. “We are trying to create a culture where feedback is ongoing,” she says. “To drive the adoption of values, we have a number of recognition programs where employees celebrate and acknowledge each other’s work,” including some coaching, feedback and “thanks” through web-based social software called Rypple.

“We share stories about teams doing work that exemplifies these values,” says Jobs. “When we asked our leadership team for stories of examples of our values in action, we got a story of a small work group working hard playfully. They pulled an all-nighter in a hotel room, getting a presentation ready for the next day. It could have been overwhelming, but they turned it into a fun, exciting celebration.”

She recommends, “Get people focused on stories that talk about people living and breathing the values. Give them a story starter.”

Johannah Whitefield, associate director of talent, growth and development at VivaKi Nerve Center, explains that stories about values must be “told and celebrated in a positive light to reinforce the desired behaviors, as well as keep them alive by embedding them into the way employees work.”

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