Organisational values are too often left to gather dust on office walls. If you are a leader and your organisation has values, how regularly do you bring those values alive in conversations with your team members? The usual response is, “Not very often.” Yet when we ask leaders if they believe in their organisation’s values they reply with a resounding, “Yes!”.
So what is the problem? Why is it that so many leaders struggle to host conversations with their team members about their organisation’s values?
The answer often lies in two issues. Firstly leaders simply forget to take responsibility for keeping their organisational values alive by talking about them with their team members. Such behaviour is simply not on their radar.
Secondly, many leaders aren’t taught how to tell effective stories. It is assumed that leaders know how to tell stories. In part this is true. People DO know how to tell stories. However, telling effective stories is different. Telling effective stories requires some structure.
Thankfully most storytelling structures are quite simple. Here’s one that most of you will remember from your childhood. The structure was effective then, and it is still effective now.
Step 1 – Start the story.
This usually involves setting the scene and context of the story. For stories regarding the organisations values you would explain a situation and set the scene that you are going to explain how the organisation’s values can be used in real situations.
Step 2 – Explain the middle section of the story
This usually involves the details about what happened and who did what. It is where the rationale behind how the values were used would be explained.
Step 3 – Finish the story
This section provide the “So what!” part of the story. What was the result? In this case, what was the impact of using the organisation’s values to guide decision making and actions.
These three steps effectively catalyse Conversations That Matter®.
When I was on the executive team of a medium sized business some legislation was passed that affected $14million of our revenue. In 12 months time it would be gone. This revenue directly paid the salaries of over 200 people.
Having already performed some scenario planning on this outcome, the executive team met to confirm what would be done for the staff to ensure that the values of integrity, teamwork, service and community were upheld throughout a difficult period. A decision was made to use the organisation’s training and development budget to up skill the staff in resume writing, interview skills and outplacement programs to ensure that as many staff as possible could find new jobs.
All staff who wished to access the support were provided with the training and outplacement support that they required. While it was a difficult period for everyone involved staff consistently reported that while they wished that the situation had not occurred, they were delighted with the support that the organisation had provided them throughout their transition. The vast majority of staff found new jobs and opportunities that fitted with their career aspirations.
A significant benefit of storytelling is that it helps people to makes sense of situations. After you have told a story it is worth asking people if the story has triggered any similar examples that also might show the organisation’s values in use. When listening to their stories listen for the start, middle and end. Not everyone tells stories correctly so they might miss out some important parts of the story. If you are listening you can help them out. For example, if someone shares a story but leaves out the end, ask, “What happened? What difference did your actions make?”. You’ll be amazed at the difference asking such questions can make to the quality of your team members storytelling.
Using this technique can create highly engaged and flowing workplace conversations. Without even knowing it your team members will start to deepen their understanding of what your organisation’s values really mean in action. So, set aside 15 minutes once a month in your team meetings and see if you can bring your organisation’s values alive through storytelling. Follow the simple start, middle and end structure and you’ll be surprised just how effective it can be. Please leave a comment or let me know how you go using the three steps for organisational storytelling.
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