How one can leverage organizational storytelling in shaping tradition

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Sharing company history can have a strong and lasting impact on company culture – especially in times of change. However, in order to maximize your storytelling outcome, it needs to be done in a way that engages employees and embeds your core values. So what are some best practices to follow?

In Culture Renovation we found a great example: 18 leadership actions to build an unwavering company by Kevin Oakes. Oakes is the CEO and co-founder of i4cp, the leading HR research company, and has been a pioneer in human capital for 25 years.

The following excerpt is published here with permission:

It’s hard to beat a great story! Stories are a common part of any healthy corporate culture, especially when it comes to home renovations. In fact, 73 percent of successful cultural change efforts have been storytelling.

Great leaders usually tell great stories, and in high performing organizations, employees can usually recite stories about the company that embody their spirit and soul. Stories about the past can help set the tone for the culture you want in the future.

One of my favorite storytelling uses to shape culture comes from Qualcomm, the leading provider of wireless chip designs for cell phones and other devices, and one of the largest employers in San Diego.

Qualcomm was founded in 1985 and was headed by Irwin Jacobs, who later became a billionaire and one of San Diego’s best-known philanthropists due to Qualcomm’s success.

At the height of its growth in 2005, the company has seen a few changes. After the share price had appreciated by almost 8,000 percent since the IPO, the 71-year-old Irwin decided to step down as CEO and hand over government to his son Paul, who had worked for the company for 15 years. Paul set out to distinguish himself as CEO, realizing that continuous innovation and execution are critical to future success.

The company’s chip design business exploded. Just before Apple launched the iPhone, the company hired like crazy. In redesigning the process of incorporating new employees into Qualcomm’s culture, Human Resources recognized the importance of aligning new employees with innovation and execution. They also recognized the criticality of first year employee retention, often viewed as the most expensive to lose, given the cost of hiring and training.

They asked themselves a simple question:

How can we quickly train new employees to the company’s innovation culture and immerse them in the Qualcomm culture?

What they came up with is so beautifully effective and ridiculously cheap that I’m shocked that more companies aren’t doing the same.

The team created a program called 52 Weeks, which consists of a story that is emailed to new employees every week, capturing key points in the company’s history. From the employees’ point of view, the stories provided insights into the company: good (and some bad) business decisions, technological milestones, background information on certain executives and the creation of key products. The stories were presented visually with images from the past. The stories were emotional too, documenting both humorous episodes and more difficult times (like divestments and layoffs) that the company went through.

When creating the stories, the team used a few criteria to choose what to share:

  • Does the story match any of the company values ​​like execution or innovation?
  • Is there an organizational strategy or information about the culture that is of interest to the employees?
  • Is it a teachable moment with a lesson learned?
  • Is it memorable?

Most of the time, the team looked for stories that would strengthen the future that management was planning. From day one, all new employees at Qualcomm were hired for 52 weeks and given a new story every week for the next year. This consistent drop in organizational history immersed new employees in the culture and cemented the cultural tenets that Paul Jacobs had expected of his CEO.

An interesting thing happened: HR received requests from existing employees to get the stories. After all, thousands of Qualcomm employees received the same weekly emails as the new hires. They provided them with stories that underpinned the best aspects of the culture they experienced each day.

This simple and inexpensive practice shows the power of organizational storytelling in shaping culture, a practice that frankly too few companies really use. Research has shown what we instinctively know: storytelling can have amazing and lasting effects.

Studies have shown that:

  • Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone
  • Our neural activity increases five times when we hear a story
  • Storytelling illuminates the sensory cortex in the brain and allows the listener to feel, hear, taste and even smell the story

The corporate world is full of famous stories. From companies that started out in a garage like Hewlett-Packard, Apple or Google, or came out of a college dorm like Dell, Facebook or even Microsoft, most well-known companies have a history of when they were founded that they use strategically with the Workforce and their customer base.

Whether it’s your external or internal brand, it’s hard to imagine a successful company that doesn’t have an interesting basic story. Employees love unique stories about their employer – they want to be part of something bigger and be inspired – and smart companies shape these stories to create the company they want to be over the long term.

When telling a company story, you reduce it to three simple concepts:

  1. The origin: What was the source of the original passion and / or what events prompted the company to get started?
  2. The customer: What problem was solved by a new or unique solution?
  3. The future: What is the purpose and how will the company change the world?

The final step is important when trying to renew your company’s culture. While not every company will change the world, companies that have successfully changed their culture have put the message on the future, not the past. Our research found interesting negative correlations with the success of cultural renovation for any company that reported changing their culture because:

  • Bad business development
  • Pressure from the board of directors and / or investors
  • Low employee engagement

Companies that have succeeded in changing their culture were almost four times more likely to describe “the desire to constantly reinvent ourselves” as the main catalyst for change and “to prepare or anticipate customer or market shifts”. Proactive versus reactive thinking is a hallmark of high performing companies. Language and positioning play a big role in trying to bring about change. Never waste a good story by choosing the wrong words.

Author: admin

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