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Want to Inspire Your Work Team? Tell Your Organization’s Stories!


Examples to help make your point

by Kelly Vandever


My second tour in the Navy, I worked at the Personnel Support Detachment in Pensacola, Florida.  For those of you who weren’t in the Navy, Personnel Support Detachments – which we called PSD for short – are the equivalent of a Human Resources department in a company.  In our case, we handled the pay and personnel records for all the Navy personnel stationed at NAS Pensacola which included the famous Blue Angels flight demonstrations team.

If you’re not familiar with the Blue Angels, they perform amazing flight demonstration shows around the country and across the world to promote the Navy’s flight program.  When they’re not traveling for shows, they are practicing for the high precision acts that they perform.  They are based out of Pensacola and practice there.  But also spend several months of the year practicing off of a base in California.  (Or at least they did back in the late 80’s — it may have changed since then!)

While I worked at PSD, there was an officer assigned to the Blue Angels who had elected to leave his family in the California location, rather have them relocate to Pensacola.  After all, he figured he’d be traveling a lot any way.  Why not just have them stay in California where they were comfortable living and where he would also be part of the year.

What he hadn’t counted on was the cost to him for doing this.  Military personnel are paid a housing stipend that varies based on the cost of living of the location where they are stationed.  The officer, because the Blue Angels are based out of Pensacola, was being paid the Pensacola rate which was considerably lower than what he’d been receiving when stationed in California.

So he came to my boss, the officer in charge of PSD Pensacola, and asked for an exception to the rule.  His request seemed reasonable, but our hands were tied.  The regulations where very clear that he was to be paid at the Pensacola rate.

But my boss didn’t think the rules in this case made sense.  So he went to his boss, told her the circumstances, and asked for an exception to the rules.  She couldn’t make the exception either, but agreed that the rules didn’t make sense.  So she sent the request up the chain of command to the office in Washington DC that could make an exception to the rules.  Those folks agreed with my boss and my boss’ boss, and approved the exception.

This situation happened when I was fairly new to the command, and I told that story time and again to staff members of that organization and others that I lead in the future.  I used that story because it was an excellent example of customer service and doing the right thing.  Just because you don’t have the authority, doesn’t mean you can’t escalate the issue to higher ups who do have the authority to do what makes sense.


What Are the Stories of Your Organization?

As a leader or member of your organization, what are the examples that illustrate the values that you want your employees to have?  Do you have stories that demonstrate those examples?  Are you sharing them in presentations?  On your intranet?  In videos?  Are you writing them down?

Having company goals and values are good.  But having stories which show those values come to life are even more valuable.   So here’s…


How to Find Your Organization’s Stories

Ask Employees and Leaders to Share Stories about Their Experiences at Key Times

One of my clients is the Florida Head Start association.  At the end of a summer program, they pulled together the leaders to debrief how the summer program had gone.

In addition to the numbers and reports, each leader was asked to bring one story of something that happened during the summer with a child in the program.  The leaders asked their staff for stories and most leaders came to the meeting with more than one story.

The stories became the leaders’ favorite part of their debrief. The stories provided reminders of why they do the work they do.  The stories became learning points to share with each and to share with their staffs.  The stories helped the leaders have more evidence to provide to those who fund their programs of the tangible ways in which the programs make a difference.

What are milestones in your organization that you could use to ask your leaders to bring forward stories from within their groups?  Strategy sessions?  Annual meetings?  Encourage leaders to collect and share the stories that will make a difference to their staff and reinforce the organization’s values.


Keep Your Ears Open

Learn about the history of your organization.  Ask other why the organization does things the way they do.  Seek out the back-stories that led to that particular approach.

Have conversations with others in your organization and listen to what’s going on.  Be tuned into hearing the stories that illustrate the type of work you want to see replicated in the organization.


Find the Natural Storytellers

There are people within your organization who are the natural storytellers.  If you don’t have one of them on your team, ask around to your peers or other leaders.  Get to know those storytellers.  Take them to lunch.  Ask them what’s going on.

These are people who love to share from their past experiences to help others.  Find them and ask them to share their wisdom.  They’ll be happy for the listening ear and welcome the opportunity to make a contribution.  And you’ll benefit from wonderful stories that will help you illustrate expectations for your staff.

 The Power of Stories

Stories are wonderful tools to help you ingrain the important ideas and values for you and your staff.   Use them to their full potential so that you and your organization can get the results you want and need.

Need Help with Your Organization’s Stories?  Call Kelly Today to Arrange for a Complementary 20-Minute Consultation.  770-597-1108





Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world.   Connect with Kelly and discover how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results. 

Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.