Congress Enacts and President Signs Bill of Responsibilities
April 1, 2021
How to Give Leadership CPR – Courage, Perseverance, Resilience
April 26, 2021

Use Stories to Shape Culture

For the 13th straight year, Scripps Health has made the honor roll of the Fortune magazine Best Places to Work! 

The power of stories to shape the future

I once had lunch with the CEO of a large media production company. We were talking about communication skills. “You know,” he said, “if you really want to reach an audience, you have to have sex with them.”

I nearly choked on my spaghetti. “All of them?!!?”

He laughed. “S.E.X. You have to create a Significant Emotional eXperience. You must first touch someone’s heart if you want to open their mind.”

The earliest human writing was in the form of story: the Book of Job, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Beowulf. There is a reason that millennia after they were written these stories are still being read: they make us think, but first they touch our hearts. 

When I was working on my MBA at Stanford University a few years back (okay, quite a few years back) I also worked at Hewlett Packard. Even though Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were long since retired, I heard many of the “Bill and Dave stories” that had shaped the HP culture. Like this one:

One Saturday morning Bill came into the office to work on a project. The cabinet containing the instruments he needed was locked. He got a bolt cutter, cut off the padlock, and left a note reading: “We trust each other at HP; never lock this door again!”

That story raced through the company faster and with far greater impact than any policy or procedure from the human resources department could ever have achieved. The aggregation of these stories shaped the culture of one of the most successful Big Stories in the history of business.

As Chris Van Gorder, who in addition to being CEO of one of America’s most admired healthcare systems is also an EMT, wrote in his contribution to the Stay Strong For Us project (quoted above), storytelling is essential for leadership communication, employee motivation, and creating shared purpose and vision. In short, stories are essential for shaping culture.

Stay Strong For Us is now available on Amazon in a beautiful full-color coffee table book format!
People will shape their understanding of what’s going on around them by the stories they hear. If they are not hearing encouraging stories from their leaders, they’re likely to fill in the blanks with more discouraging stories of their own. 

Think of the stories we’ve all heard over the past year. Stories of courage and heroism; loss and morning; fellowship and teamwork; anxiety and anger. 

People will naturally remember the painful stories from the pandemic and recession. That is human nature. And that is why it will be so important for leaders to help people remember and reframe the positive stories so we can effectively grieve what has been lost, celebrate what has been gained, and proactively move forward.

Tom Brokaw didn’t call the generation that lived through the Great Depression and World War II “the greatest generation” because of what they endured, but rather because of what they accomplished in the face of that adversity.

The stories we tell, and the way we tell those stories, will substantially determine whether the pandemic and everything that has come in its wake will be remembered as a time of pain and victimhood, or as a period of trial and turbulence during which we overcame big challenges to make a better world.

How can you capture and remember those stories and use them to help you shape post-pandemic culture in your organization, your department, and your family?

Try this

Create a safe forum where people can share their stories – virtually if not in person. At WellSpan Health, Marlene Crouse conducts Terrific Tuesdays, a 30-minute get-together with her team. They watch one of the 21 short videos from my Everyday Courage for Extraordinary Times program, then Marlene opens the floor for conversation. 


Everyday Courage

Courage, Perseverance, Resilience, Hope

Everyday Courage for Extraordinary Times features 21 short videos, 12 eBooks, Leader’s Guide and Participant Study Guide. The course is incredibly affordable, easy to implement, tailored to your organization, and absolutely guaranteed to be effective. 

Everyday Courage for the Organization
Everyday Courage for the Individual