Everything Starts With A Good Story!

Everything Starts With A Good Story!

In organisations, what people do may not differ considerably, but high-performing organisations distinguish themselves in how they do it. The effect of ‘what’ is done and ‘how’ it is done ultimately determines an organisation’s performance.


All of us understand that the culture of an organisation speaks of what people do and how they do it. In organisations, as a matter of fact, what people do may not differ considerably, but highperforming organisations distinguish themselves in how they do it. In other words, the effect of ‘what’ is done and ‘how’ it is done ultimately determines an organisation’s performance.


Moving forward, I want to take a different route to discuss the subject of culture change. Let me start with what Peter Guber mentioned in his book, ‘Tell to Win’, “Non- stories may provide information, but stories have a unique power to move people’s hearts, minds, feet and wallets in the storyteller’s intended direction”. What Peter said is true even in a business context.


Here a question comes into my mind, ‘Why should we talk about culture and values?’ The answer is simple, and to illustrate, let me share a story.


The world confronted a crisis in 2014. Numerous people in West Africa were dying from Ebola. Because the world is interconnected, projections suggested that the infections would rapidly spread all over the world and hit Europe and North America particularly hard.


In the United States, there were insistent calls to shut down air travel from the affected regions and close the borders. The political pressure to move in that direction was intense.


President Barack Obama was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his presidency—one that he had not encountered before and never encountered again. He chose not to close any borders. Instead, he sent three thousand people—health workers and soldiers—to West Africa. He led a diverse, international coalition of nations - using their resources and expertise to attack the problem at its source. In a true sense, Barack Obama reflected the culture and values of his administration and found an answer to solve the ‘Ebola crisis’. He never gave up in spite of intense opposing forces and stood by the cause.


A peep into the business world


The stated values of ANX Ltd (Company name changed) were, People really are the most important asset’, ‘Respect for people’ and ‘Collaboration’. But people were not so happy. The company was successful with high revenues, great customers, and collaborative channel partners. But employee turnover rates were quite high. Though employees were performing, they just were not staying, not engaged.


The CEO of the company once shared an incident. A client meeting was scheduled on the very day when one of his employees was getting married. The CEO further explained that he had told him that his presence would be needed in the meeting and he would ensure that the meeting was early enough so that he could still get to his wedding on time. “Why do you want to change the culture?” The new CHRO asked the CEO. “The company seems to be doing well and is profitable. It means that the culture is working to support the stated long-term business goals of the company. Why not nurture the existing culture and keep it?”


The CEO had to think for a few moments and he confessed, “It is not sustainable in the long term, possibly the company would lose the best of talent and future leaders, and no one will want to work here. The culture seems toxic.”


The above story makes us really think about the culture, where people will want to spend the precious time of their life, contribute, grow. And more importantly, where they would like to leave their imprint and legacy for the next generation.


According to research, it has been found that performance-driven culture showcase better and sustainable financial growth. A series of studies have also proven that in the long run, cultural change in the organisation positively impacts both employee performance and economic performance.


Culture and core values correlate directly with the performance of the business, which directly relates to employee satisfaction. Interestingly, studies have also shown that organisations with higher core value index are more capable of outperforming those with lower core value index scores.


Let me share my experience of the business transformation of a company XYZ Ltd. (name changed) which was set up in the 1950s, where a dream turned into a reality in 2020.


As we all know, to start a culture change we need to do the following:


1. Do dramatic story-worthy things: Which represent the culture we want. We want to create for the future and then let other people tell stories about it.


2. Find other people who do story-worthy things: Which represent the culture we want. We want to create and then tell stories about them.


Let us look at the following diagrams on Profit and Cost to understand exactly what happened during the transformation journey in the company:–


A success story



Diagram: 1


Considering the market opportunities, in the year 2016, the company decided to hire a global management consulting firm and embark on a business transformation journey for business growth and in the interest of the stakeholders - employees, customers, channel partners, investors and shareholders.


In 2016, the profit of the company was at 300 Crores and the long-term plan (2016-2019) was set at 700 Crores, a truly audacious goal. This leap was not an easy one. However, the company’s top management was fully committed to achieve that steep growth. Good for everyone!


The biggest challenge for the company was to build a robust and sustainable ‘PERFORMANCE CULTURE’ without which the achievement of the overarching goal of 700 Crores profit in a three-year time frame was impossible.


Diagram: 2


The company had also realised that the work practices – policies and processes and systems must also change. In addition, the realisation should also prevail among employees, channel partners and supply chain partners that the cost should come down on all fronts to remain competitive in the market place. And to make this happen, ‘Culture change’ was an absolute necessity.


The top management was fully committed to achieving the set target and setting a strong ‘Performance culture’ in the company. This was guided by the company’s ‘Core values’ and ‘Strategic values’.


Core values: Values underline how people interact with each other in an organisation. Respect for people, Collaboration, Accountability, Transparency and Empowerment.


Strategic values: Values guiding conduct, activities and goals of organisation - who we are, Customer centricity, Communication, Excellence, Agility and Innovation.


To cut the long story short, the company not only achieved the set target but also exceeded it.


From day one of the transformation journey, the top management of the company decided to communicate transparently with all the partners – employees, dealers, vendors and suppliers and investors. They shared stories of what went well and what could have been done better. This effort brought long-term advantages to the company, built a culture of collaboration, transparency and mutual appreciation. This change propelled people to do worthy things, create dramatic changes, create inspiring stories of change and success. Failures were also not hiding any more under the carpet. All these helped the company to build high level of performance culture and the interplay of Core and Strategic values was worth emulating.


There came a time when lots of success stories and inspiring stories were being created in different corners of the company. It was not limited within the defined boundaries of the company, rather such stories were also created at the customer and channel partners sites. And the company shared those stories generously through monthly communiqué with people - inside and outside the company.


The company invited the change leaders, both, young and experienced to share stories to inspire people to continue to build a performance culture. They talked about the collaboration of R&D with manufacturing, quality, supply chain, HR and Finance team for new product development needed for existing and changing markets.


The channel partners and customers were invited to the company to visit the manufacturing plant and interact with the product development team. The idea was to build an ‘outside in’ culture which co-existed with ‘inside-out’ culture, but dominated when needed. The leaders willingly accepted the change and saw its benefits - like product improvements and engagement of customers with the company. And the stories travelled fast, the company became more porous, people became receptive to change, and therefore, success was inevitable!


To summarise, we have often seen that in organisations with a highperformance culture, employees develop a far greater understanding of the company’s strategic direction, priorities, and more importantly, the corresponding Core and Strategic values that help in alignment and achievement of these objectives. In other words, the employees need to know and understand organisational values to help achieve the desired business objectives and build the performance culture of the organisation.


A dismal story:



Diagram: 3…A dismal story…


The stores of success will remain incomplete if some stories of failure are not shared.


In the same company (XYZ Ltd), a business unit was running at loss for the past few years. However, there was good market potential for business growth considering the growth of the Indian economy and changing consumer preferences.


Thus, the business unit was also a part of the company’s business transformation agenda. It had common Core and Strategic values and the top management was fully committed to transforming this business unit and bringing it to the forefront of success. Unfortunately, this business unit could not cope with the desired culture change, could not build a performance culture and had fallen short in building a high level of culture of collaboration, a culture of transparency, a culture of excellence and a culture of mutual appreciation. It could not create stories which others can emulate for success and for growth.


The business unit did not have any story to inspire people to perform and be motivated. It did not move from the ‘Red zone’ to the ‘Green zone’. The big reason – the culture change that occurred in the other business units of the company could not take place here, and finally, considering the long-term interest of the shareholders and investors, this business unit was divested. Though the decision was painful, there was no way out. Until the end, this business unit could not change and adapt to a performance culture and could not create stories which others could emulate for success and growth. However, the entire journey was full of learning and new experiences.


The story of the said business unit goes further from here. The new entity which bought it with all its assets and liabilities, made it profitable within a short period of time.


In a true sense, we live by stories. We tell them, repeat them, listen to them, value them, and feel good to act in accordance with them. We have the power to change our stories and be changed by them, says Peter Guber.


Praveen Sinha is Ex Head - HR Centre of Excellence, Corporate HR, Escorts Ltd and Co-founder, People n Planet Fora. He comes with an experience of more than 35 years and has worked in Damien Foundation, Belgium, Deepak Fertilizers & Petrochemicals Corporation, Tata Finance, Raymond etc. Praveen has a Post Graduate degree in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations from XISS Ranchi and is a Certified coach-Art & Science of Coaching from Erickson coaching International.


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