Stories have been known to make a big impact on our lives. As children, if we were told stories of valour and courage. They inspire us to exhibit such qualities in later life. Similarly messages of love, compassion or empathy are best imbibed through stories. Yet, over the years there has been a dearth of stories. In the changed scenario, grandmothers no longer live under the roof of nuclear families. Working mothers and fathers do not have the time for stories. Children have moved to other sources like video and computer games to engage themselves. It appears that we have lost the fine art of telling stories which came easily and effortlessly to our ancestors.
What is true of the home, is true of the corporate scene. In the day to day struggle of meeting targets, maintaining the quality standards and besting the competition, we do not have the time to share stories of how we came up trumps in a tough situation, how we combined beautifully as a team to deliver the best results. These stories told and retold could have become folklore of the company that inspires not just one but generations of employees. Today, on the few occasions executives address employees, the examples taken are of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet or at best of Narayanamurthy or Dhirubhai Ambani and what they did to achieve success. There are hardly any stories from one's own company...
At the valedictory session of training programs and during the one to one reviews one month after the program, I have been appealing to the participants to practice the learning in day to day work and then share their success stories of its application in our intranet (knowledge management site). But there are hardly any takers in view of the reasons already discussed in this post. However in the training program on core values of the company facilitated by the Manager, Learning and Development Joshy Thomas, a separate session is devoted exclusively for encouraging participants to share stories wherein the five core values of the company viz customer, collaboration, challenge, people and globality were articulated by them or colleagues in the course of day to day work. Joshy told me that in one such program V.Bimal, Senior Manager Sales (Logistics) shared a very inspiring story that happened when he was working in the Regional office (Sales) in Chennai..
I decided to meet Bimal personally and hear the story from the horse's mouth.Although I had gone to him to listen to one motivating story, as I interacted with him I realized that I had hit jackpot and that he was willing to tell me more than one story from the work situation- Yeh dil maange more!
Bimal's story goes back to the year 2000. He had sold the Santro car to a customer. Once sale is completed, normally the job of the sales person is over and in case of any hiccup subsequently, the customer contacts the after sales person. But this customer decided to call Bimal whom he knew rather than a stranger. He was stranded on the middle of the road in Nungambakkam Chennai with his wife and two young kids at around 8 PM in the night. As the customer sounded frantic, Bimal told him to wait in the same place and that he would drive down personally to take a look. His residence being close by he reached in about fifteen minutes. On taking a look at the car, it was evident that it will need to be attended in the workshop. While the customer was digesting the impact of this bad news and pondering as to how he will take his family home, Bimal offered to give his personal car to him for the night. He said he would try to take the customers's car by driving it slowly to his residence as it is nearby, arrange for it to be attended to in the workshop the next day and have the car delivered to the customer's residence.
The customer was both surprised and happy by the offer. The fall out of this unplanned, unexpected encounter was that this customer translated his happiness and satisfaction into referring a number of his friends and acquaintances to Bimal. This continued for about three years until he shifted residence to Bangalore. Bimal then said "There is one more thing I would like to add. It had not come to my mind when I related this story during the training program - About two years prior to this incident, our Regional Manager (sales), Mr Y.J. Ahn, a Korean was travelling on the Chetput bridge in Chennai at around 5 PM when he noticed a santro car on the road surrounded by a few people. He asked the driver to slow down and on coming to know that there was a problem with the car, he insisted that the customer be dropped to his destination in his car. He waited on the road until alternative arrangements were made from the regional office for his pick up. The next day our entire regional office was abuzz with discussions and small talk appreciating the gesture of our leader to a customer. Come to think of it, this gesture knowingly or unknowingly may have influenced my decision to offer my car to the customer".
Needless to say, I was thrilled by this story. But before I could fully appreciate its impact, Bimal related the story of another customer, a lady whom he now referred to as 'aunty' as today she has become like a family member. Their relationship however had initially begun as between a customer and the sales manager. As a customer who had exchanged her car for a Hyundai car, Sophia was entitled to an exchange bonus. The dealer collects the relevant documents and sends the recommendation to the Hyundai Motor India sales headquarters in Delhi for sanctioning the payment. As there was delay in getting the bonus and the dealer was not keeping her informed of the exact position, Sophia who lives in Cochin contacted the regional office Chennai which had the administrative jurisdiction for south and was connected to Bimal. After going in to the details, Bimal not only kept her informed of where exactly her papers were at that point of time (allaying any doubt as to whether she would be denied her rightful claim) but also expedited the process. This initiative resulted in a life long relationship with the customer. After that periodically whenever Sophia wished to change / upgrade her car, she invariably called Bimal for advice and continues to keep in touch till date.
After relating his inspiring stories, Bimal remarked "in the initial stages when the company was growing, we were all charged up and all the activities and initiatives were done by us in the normal course of work. We never felt that we were going out of the way. I doubt whether today's youngsters would care for these stories or whether these priorities matter to them." While thanking him I told Bimal that I beg to differ with his view on this matter. Had these and other inspiring stories from the work place been told and retold over the years, the enthusiasm and excitement would have been still alive in the same measure in the company no matter how much bigger we have become in the scale of operations or employee strength. A story from sales or production department would not only inspire employees in the said departments but employees across the board, in all departments of the company!
In her book "Whoever tells the best story wins", Annette Simmons draws attention to the power of telling stories and also gives tips on how to use your own stories effectively for different purposes and situations. According to Simmons "stories help people feel acknowledged, connected and less alone. The stories you tell and the stories people tell themselves about you, your product or service enhance or minimize your ability to deliver satisfaction."
I believe that the time is long over due for us HRDians to take the initiative to collect stories from the past, encourage people to tell success/ inspiring stories from the present and nurture an organizational culture that facilitates story telling. After all, as Annette Simmons says "Whoever tells the best story wins"!