Do You Know Your Team Members’ Stories?

I’m part of an employee recognition committee within the business I lead. This grassroots effort (for the people, by the people) recognizes the individual contributions of a team member and reminds us what values we hold in the highest regard as a culture. We call it the “Higher Gear” award, and it takes into account the individual’s impact on clients, people and the business overall.

Out of a team of approximately 50, ten individuals were nominated. That alone made me proud. Not only do we have a great number of award-worthy team members, but we have a team that recognizes greatness in their colleagues – enough to proactively take measures to reward them.

We felt that in order to capture the true essence of the person and understand the values of the culture, we should conduct interviews to understand how the nominee impacted clients, people, and the business. In other words, we documented the nominees’ “stories.”

The process of capturing these stories was enlightening. Sure, it helped us understand and gather support for their nomination, but more than that, it helped us understand who the nominees are. Where do they come from, what makes them tick, how are they unique, how do they make people feel? We actually got to know them, not just for their accomplishments, but for their interests and personality. We learned who was on our team, not simply what they did.

The power of stories

We spend too much time rushing through life. Listing tasks, accomplishing tasks and looking for the next task. We do not spend enough time engaged in storytelling, both as the storyteller and the listener. Stories are powerful, if you are willing to spend the time to ask and have the desire to listen.

My best teachers have been natural storytellers. The best commencement speakers are storytellers; just look at a recent Fast Company article, The Best Advice from 2016 Commencement Speeches. It not only shares some of the most beneficial pearls of wisdom bestowed upon the class of 2016, but it consistently refers to the stories that were told as a way to deliver advice. Storytelling is the new advice.

As leaders, we need to find our story and the stories of our team members. I have found that it helps to better understand the individual, the team and the culture we are building.

A lot has been written lately about how much cultural and behavior change is needed in order to effectively move businesses forward in a rapidly evolving future. This starts from within, and I believe an internal storytelling process may just be the way to break the barriers of stagnant culture.

I’d like to end this post with sincere congratulations to Patrick O’Donnell winner of the  Higher Gear award.