The Impact of Stories on Company Culture

What stories are being told about the leadership and culture at your organization?  Stories are based on employee experiences and influence ‘like’ behavior.  This can be positive and encourage positive behavior, or have the exact opposite sway.  And here’s the thing, contagion spreads quickly regardless of which way the pendulum swings.

A surprising fact – According to Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School, research indicates that we’re especially discouraged with negative behavior from senior level management, resulting in fewer value-upholding behaviors among employees.

Interestingly, stories told about lower level employees engaging in value-upholding behaviors were more likely to encourage similarly positive behaviors and reduce deviant actions than similar stories about high-level organizational members.

It seems we are lifted up by stories of those at the bottom behaving generously and particularly discouraged by stories about higher-ups misbehaving. Yes, we often make irrational decisions, but perhaps we also have too high expectations of leaders? And shouldn’t we?

There are many examples of shared stories of integrity, generosity, kindness, and compassion among company executives such as Zappos CEO and customer service staff, L.L.Bean staff and leaders, Disney and Associates; and Starbucks’ CEO.  In today’s business environment it’s important not to underestimate the influence.  

Telling and listening to stories have a powerful impact on our own behaviors and sense of well-being as well as the well-being and behaviors of our co-workers and close associates. Our advice?  Create the culture and experiences which lead to stories that foster a great place to work. These are the same experiences and stories that uphold employee well-being, meaning, respect, integrity and values.