Turn Your Company Culture Around With Stories

Can any of us recall a day when our thoughts did not gravitate at least once to the dark edges of our mind? It happens every day, even in the workplace. That is why good leaders spend lots of time looking for the right key to open the door to the most productive and nurturing portion of their consciousness, thereby turning a bright, salutary light on the dark places.  The right key has the ability to cleanse worried thoughts, bring relief, and help employees and leaders alike turn the corner to a more vivid present and then to the future.  The right key opens our minds to the contributions our company can make and to the best type of assistance leaders can give their employees to enable them to make those contributions happen—in real time, not just on paper.  That is why wise leaders in every sector of the economy know it’s smart to turn their workday thinking-time to positive, forward-looking emotions that drive planning and problem-solving rather than spend mind-time awash in the circular emotions of remorse, anger, and anxiety.

For positive thoughts leading to productive actions are the best way to fill up the TIME and SPACE of our consciousnesses—just as we want to fill up our daily caloric needs with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains!  So we have no space or time to eat sugars or fats—good analogy, isn’t it?

How do smart leaders turn their own and their associates’ negative thinking to positive? By communicating messages that set out the way forward and reaffirm the correctness of the direction set and the path traveled. And the really great leaders know that the very best way to connect with anyone, filling up that person’s mind-time with healthful memories to motivate them, is to tell stories–lots of them.

Have you heard this one?

Dan Porter is the CEO of OMGPOP. The life cycle of OMGPOP was looking much like other start-ups–its products were getting little traction and they were running out of money. When the company had two months of cash left, Dan had to lay off several employees. Then something amazing happened; OMGPOP introduced the mobile game Draw Something, now the most popular mobile game of all time, with over 50 million downloads in the first two months! Then something not so surprising occurred–the company Zynga offered to buy OMGPOP for $210 million.

But then something really amazing and surprising did occur! Dan Porter hired back every laid-off employee prior to the sale so they could share in the money each employee received through the stock options they held from the moment they were hired. Dan Porter gave a real-life lesson in what it means to be generous of heart and a plain nice guy!  I would bet that every time this story was passed on to another person at OMGPOP, that meant that both the teller’s and the listener’s consciousnesses were filled with a Clorox-bright light that cleanses the mind-spaces where dark thoughts hide out.

I speak to the power of storytelling in my book Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace, (Chapel Hill Press 2008):

  “It is no accident that there is a resurgence of storytelling. Can there be any more therapeutic conveyance of information? Stories become ornate quilts of enlightenment created when our life experiences are patched together with care. The greatest of these accounts become our modern-day myths. . . . [F]ictional stories can never rival the true experiences painted with the brush and palette of a clever mind. Nothing illustrates a point like a true story. A true story is the point. What is more intriguing than a story narrating events that refuse to obey the laws of probability? What is more compelling than the telling of a tale that by the information it conveys transforms that information into experience, our experience.”

The great thing about stories is that one size fits all.  If you tell a story to one hundred people they will often shear off divergent lessons and pass them on to others who need to hear. Even a story that is only tangentially related to the insight you want to convey can shift the listener’s emotional axis in dramatically beneficial ways.

In my case, the Dan Porter story confirmed my personal observation that most all CEO’s are no different than most of their co-workers–they are kind and caring individuals who try to do the right thing. Are there exceptions? Sure.  But “exceptions to the rule” exist at every layer of societal or corporate life. I am also reminded that we can’t ever have too many role models. We need to spend our own mind-time ferreting out stories that affirm and ratify the most authentic aspects of our humanity. Those authentic aspects of who we are grow even healthier in the “sunshine” of narrating tales like Dan’s true story, of passing such stories along, of sharing important messages.

One final way that stories can be put to good use is this: In times of change when doubt lingers throughout an organization, tell stories of companies that were similarly situated. Companies like OMGPOP are indelible reminders that a corporate culture that diligently focuses on its mission and vision can explode with unheard of success at any time, even when it appears to be on life support—with just two months of cash in its coffers. It also doesn’t hurt to have a CEO who has a genuine concern for the welfare of his or her people.

And plenty of other good gals and guys are out there, role models all, just waiting to have their stories shared.  Start your storytelling by making a list of the ones you know about, then go to your home library and go online to fill in the details.

When you are looking for the right key to open the doors in your and your associates’ consciousnesses that guard anger, resentment, and fear at past or possible failure, often that key is in plain sight.  They are often right there–stories of charity, self-sacrifice, and kindness.  Such stories can open doors to those deep caverns of dark emotions in our consciousness that hunger for powerful teachings. Powerful precepts are based in real-life events, they are in every moment of time, light-filled, and give lasting substance to listeners’ memories.  In that way, listeners return to them again and again when they are down, using your story, the one you gave them, to turn their feelings back to good, productive work.

There are days when stories like Dan Porter’s are all we need to allow our souls to turn the corner. In hearing or reading them, our being is enabled to migrate from a sense of entitlement—a defensive stance!–to one of caring and selflessness, a winner’s stance.

These stories reinforce the need–the mandate, really–to never give up on people. Finally, folks in struggling companies are reminded through story that building a culture focusing on the company’s mission and vision can unleash a cascade of success at any time, even when the company appears to be on life support and in its darkest hour.

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About Santo Costa

Sandy Costa is an internationally respected speaker and business leader. Check out Sandy’s website at www.SantoCosta.com
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