The company story is a composite of how you represent yourself to employees, supplier, customers, and the general public.
It is tied closely to your reputation, reinforced by your integrity, and defined by your behavior. Your story is the essence of who you are, what you believe in, and how you act out your character in a business play. Think of your story as if it were presented in a theater. Your story can be a comedy, a tragedy, or a musical. There will be a cast of characters, some good, others not so good, each telling their own version of the story.
article by Diane Shawe
Most organisations are in trouble because their main characters in the play, the managers or owners, tell stories that don’t hang together. Three problems are associated with their composite company story. First, the story is badly told; second, it is not acted out in a coherent manner; and third, it doesn’t ring true. The sales department is living one story while operations follows a different theme. Finance has its own world while marketing occupies still another cloud. Is it any wonder employees are confused? They seem to be working for different companies simultaneously.
When a Story Is Badly Told
A badly told story has its roots in an incomplete business plan. Most organisations have bits and pieces of the items making up the plan. Managers are usually proud they have a philosophy statement posted in the lobby. They point in triumph to the value statements listed in the company literature. Somewhere you will be shown a vision. Each of these elements is appropriate and necessary in both a well-constructed business plan and an authentic story.
If a single element is missing from the plan, the story is incomplete. The danger of an incomplete story is evidenced when the flaws show up in execution of the plan. An incomplete business plan results in a frag- ile document presenting a story that doesn’t ring true. An incomplete model implodes.
When there is no vision statement for instance in a story. any well-written plan with all the pieces will not stack up if the vision portion is lacking.
When the Story Pieces Don’t Add Up
Failure to virtually linked to the elements also contributes to an incomplete story. Because the parts and pieces are not interconnected there is no coordinated, disciplined implementation. It is possible to actually have the elements working against each other. For example, values may contradict the philosophy. The vision and mission could be disconnected. Principles could be developed that cancel each other. These disconnected behaviors cause customers and employees to hold the company management suspect. They sense something is not right or it is just not working.
When the Story Isn’t Believable
Another equally fatal flaw in telling a story is to be incongruent. For example, you claim to love customers then treat them badly. You claim to value employees yet they become targets of opportunity for reengineering or down sizing, even in good times. You profess to provide the best products in your industry yet they don’t work as advertised.
People are astute and getting smarter especially with the powerful smartphone in the palm of their hands. They pick up on the fact you don’t live your own company hype. Your story simply isn’t believable. Consider public awareness of a company’s environmental protection position. Let one incident occur then watch the media have a field day with the inconsistencies. Politicians suffer the same fate when they make public promises they cannot keep. They become inconsistent with their story, telling each special interest group what the group needs to hear.
The Antidote to a Badly Managed Story
There is an antidote for a badly managed story. The key is building a congruent story by eliminating the very issues that create incon- gruence. The first step is to get a business plan in place. To do it as defined in this text, you will be forced to deal with the key planning elements as discrete elements and then again as an integrated framework. This is the only known process to make the message authentic, congruent, and believable.
Being authentic requires truth and hard work. It requires an acknowledgment of who you really are in terms of what you believe in, how you behave, and what you expect. If yours is a lethargic organisation, don’t claim high performance. Being authentic means identifying all the problems in your system, communicating to employees that you know the problems, and finally telling them how you intend to fix those problems. Everyone must share this hard work across the range of business activities and down the management structure. Everyone must participate in careful organisational analysis and the required actions to fix the problems.
Being congruent requires constant vigilance on the part of the whole management team. This means you must do what you say— every single time. There are situations where you will slip. Honest mistakes are okay. Employees do not expect their management to be perfect. They do expect them to live up to their word and match word and deed.
Reaching a state where you and your management team are believed is a journey with history working against you. A mis management example made public doesn’t help your case. Building trust to counter this history is not an overnight event. After your story is completed, communicated, and demonstrated you will experience hesitance and resistance from employees. They won’t be quick to jump on your train. There will be a test period to see if you really meant what you said or if this was simply an annual pep talk from upper management. Remember two points: Employees have heard it all before, and actions speak louder than words.
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