The Transformative Impact of Stories

Once upon a time, there was a great knight… We all like stories. Yes, we do!  Ever since human beings sat around fire in caves, we have told stories. We all liked our parents to read us stories before going to bed. In our adult lives, we read books, go to movies and attend plays. But stories are also a fantastic medium to carry the messages of values or transformation towards a future proof organisation. So what does it take to bring back story telling in the workplace? If you wonder about the purple bull, keep reading…

Story telling

In the executive programmes I usually facilitate, a number of session be it from a keynote speaker or a company visit are there to inspire participants on alternative ways of working. But at the end of the day, what it creates is a set of stories that people use back to inspire, convince, and transform. They tell the stories of why Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Redhat,  says “If there’s more honesty at the water cooler than there is in the conference rooms, then you have a problem.” or why Bjarte Bogsnes, Vice President Performance Management Development at Statoil mentions “Don’t put everybody in jail because there is one offender”. It serves also to limit the perceived risk of future proof organisations practices. “Others have done it”, it is reassuring. Great stories also propage easily and reinforce messages in a positive manner. They connect an idea with an emotion. Often stories cross the barrier of time, circulate over different cultures. Stories can come from outside your own organization or inside based on experiments that you collaborators have done.

Remarquable and Non-Verbal

But what makes a good story? Of course plenty. But time and time again for me, two elements come back. First of all, it has to be remarkable. There I am using the “purple cow” concept (or purple bull in my case and now you understand the picture above) of Seth Godin. A “purple cow” is what makes something (in our case a story) remarkable. A black cow in a field is not remarkable but a purple one yes, and often it means chocolate :-). So what is so remarkable in your story that people will remember it? Start with it and it will never be forgotten. Often it is a part very close to your heart and emotions. Look at this speech from the CEO of Danone to inspire young leaders and note how he starts with a powerful, personal story.

The second element of a great story is that it is not only words but also non verbal elements like visuals. The saying goes “a picture (or nowadays a video) is worth a thousand words”. So wether it is a picture, a video or a drawing it is often more powerful than a long speech. And even in a speech, non verbal is more powerful than words. Want a proof, watch this, yes they do communicate and tell a story:

Culture building block

Stories can also become a core element of a company culture. When I visited Leroy Merlin early this year, one of our hosts mentioned something that I will never forget. He says “we are an oral company”. What he was saying is that at Leroy Merlin they do not always make a written process for everything or write an email to say something. They talk to each other, they exchange stories. It reduces bureaucracy. It increases employee engagement.  It changes the relation between colleagues. As a story teller you need to care about your audience. Telling stories has its positive roots in the deepest experience that we had when we were kids. So powerful. It also changes the attitude towards others.  Because a recipient of a story needs to listen to what the teller is saying. The listener needs to be fully present to experience it, to absorb it. A very different relationship between a story teller and a listener emerges then, much closer to what is required to create a climat of trust and empathy in the workplace. The next first step is then easy for you. What is your story? Tell it starting with your purple cow (or bull whichever you like the most :-)).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *