Telling your company story to your employees is already an old tale, a cliché that would definitely make them sleepy and bored. I heard this from a friend, and although I believed the half of it, I know that company stories are still a powerful tool to build culture inside business premises and to engage employees and even outsiders to believe in company’s beliefs.
It the spring of 1989, our company CEO assigned me to lead the yearly company story reading for our third anniversary. At that time, I had no inkling that this task would be as harrowing as it turned out to be. As I read it through, I noticed that my officemates were busy checking their pocketbells and scarcely paying attention to my words; half of them were sleeping, another fraction chatting with their seatmates, and the rest (comprised of my closest office friends and subordinates) were displaying weak affectations just to show that they were with me at the lowest point of my life. That was actually the longest twenty minutes of my life. However, after my monologue, they showed renewed interest when our HR manager took my place on the dais to announce the forthcoming salary increase for those who performed well in the last quarter of the year.
This all happened over two decades ago, but the situation has not really changed at all. Four months back, during our fifteenth anniversary, the new company story reader—who is also a speech professor at a reputable university—assigned by the event organizer did not manage to capture his audience any better. I admit that I dozed off twice while story was being told.
Variation and change
Variation and change could have made a difference, maybe. For ten years, I narrated the same company story without changing the way I interpreted it. Through all those years, I read the story just to meet my obligations, without much fervor. Our company story lacks originality (its format, narration, and story flow are cookie-cutter copies of others) and relevance (important details such as dates, terms, and the jargon used seem to be stuck in the new wave era of the 80’s), but we tell it all the same, and in the same way, to this day.
Not so for other, more forward-thinking companies. Today, a lot of companies put much stock on the way they share their beginnings and where it has brought them. Company stories printed on a glossy magazine paper and Harper-Perennial-type pocketbooks are becoming popular; there are also free mp3 files containing company stories narrated by famous movie actors. An event organizer sent one of those mp3 files directly to my iPad while I was at a client meeting in Chicago! It’s kind of sad to realize how far our company has been left behind.
Besides these newfangled marketing gimmicks, though, a company story should always strive to be honest and realistic. To be frank, our company history is written in the most ornate style, and is an autobiography of our company’s CEO more than anything else. The reader or listener could probably never be able to relate himself to the story– a “heroic” tale that focuses on how our CEO valiantly battled several economic crises, inflations, wage hikes, and recession. He is the center of the story, not thecompany.
What should be written in a company story?
Enough of personal bragging and arrogance. A company story should be written in the most direct-to-the-point way, and it should tell us who the company is, what the business is, what the company does for their customers, what its goals and aims are; and what are its principles, values, and philosophy are as a business. Bottom line: Let others know what makes your company better and outstandingly different from other companies.