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Posted on: Friday, 08 May 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Your Organization Is (Not) Hiring Story Tellers

Storytellers build remarkable stories about awesome products built by genuine builders. Stories which change the world. Stories which build tribes. Stories which add a soul to a product; stories which add a purpose to the team's effort and meaning to an 'organization'.  

They are mavens, leaders of tribes and masters at the art of remarkable story telling.

Much like builders realize that their every existence depends on the awesomeness of products that they build; story tellers realize their their very existence depends on their stories being built on the foundations of genuine truth. Strong foundations of honest stories is what storytellers often stand on.

This of course; means that an amazing storytellers usually ends up doing three things:

First - they weave remarkable stories with strong foundations.

Second - they work hard to turn those stories into realities.

Third - they build even more remarkable stories based on strong foundations of their older stories.

It's the second item that makes story-tellers the official trouble makers of the organization and a pain in the ass for the more traditional departments in the organization.

Here's how it works.

Your vice president addresses the entire organization in an 'all staff' meeting. Here he gives a rather motivational speech --- he goes ahead and says that yours is a company with a difference. It is an organization which trusts people to take calculated decisions and judgment calls rather than relying on stringent policies.

He goes ahead and says rather clearly that each one of you is a talented mind who is better than the best available out there. You are not just a 'resource' --- but an innovator. The organization believes in you.

Now if you've ever been to one of these meetings --- here is what happens --- people listen, people wonder how all this impacts them. People yawn. People doze off with open eyes wondering when the speech will end.

But the story tellers in your organization are listening. Listening to every words. Once the meeting ends they get down to the work of weaving remarkable stories around each word. Stories which can add cause and meaning to your organization. Stories that your team genuinely 'wants' to listen and care about. Stories that they themselves genuinely believe in.

Then something remarkable happens. Something that very few organizations understand.

What started with a boring all employee meeting; turns into small yet remarkable stories. Then these stories that are told by story tellers start spreading within the corridors of the organization. People genuinely start making small judgment calls and start taking decisions pertaining to their projects.   

A small tribe of proud employees is formed. Employees who genuinely want to believe that they work for an organization with a difference --- an organization that trusts individuals to make decisions and judgment calls for the best interest of the organization.

What started off as a boring speech, turns into a way of life.

The story tellers aren't lying. They aren't cheating your team. All they are doing is adding purpose, meaning and passion to a story that was told in the speech. That and they are working on turning the story into reality.

This is where you start seeing issues though.

Before you know it, there is someone who is talking to the office administration staff about making office timings flexible or buying a few X-Box consoles and the guys at administration department are freaking out. They are looking at him like he has a third eye.

That's when the new-flash happens.

Of course the Vice President said those things and of-course he meant it. But he didn't "absolutely-mean-it-mean-it". He didn't want you to 'act' on it. He didn't intend to start a tribe of employees who are 'proud to belong' --- it was just a speech.

Then the bunch of whiners flow in with ideas about discipline, threat to the corporate culture, employees not being mature enough and what started as a remarkable vision from your chief executing office or vice president turns into dirty war of 'everyone trying to do their job' and a joke where everyone pretends to be working for the 'best interest of the organization'.

Whiners whine. Mail threads are started. Meetings are organized --- and nothing happens.

If change is something organizations in general and whiners in particular are scared of, remarkable visions or stories with concrete actions to turn them into reality are much like nightmares to organizations.

These are exactly the moments that a small number of really smart organizations often grab. They hold on to these moments. They give the story tellers every tool to turn the vice president's speech into a reality that is exciting and a culture that is full of fun. These are organizations that give story tellers every tool they need to weave genuine and remarkable stories. These are organizations that give their builders every reason to belong.

These are the organizations that become remarkable.

Other organizations; however; are just shit scared of story tellers and their stories --- much like they are scared of builders and what their remarkable 'stuff' does --- primarily because all of these things result in 'change'

After all it is easy to organize a meeting with inspirational speeches. As long as the general mediocrity of the organizations aren't threatened with concrete change no-one will have a problem with it. Storytellers are trouble makers because they weave remarkable stories and then work on making them real. They threaten the comfortable mediocrity most organizations are so used to.

Which remarkable stories have you heard in your organization?

Which one of them were killed by whiners who claimed that they were trying to work for the "best interest of the organization"?

Does your organization have flexible timings, work from home and x-box consoles?

Do you have tribes of employees who feel proud to belong?

Do you have whiners in your organization who believe that your employees aren't mature enough to be trusted with work hours and video games in offce?

How many times do you hear the words 'maturity' and 'discipline' at work, dear reader? 

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.