The Power of Small Stories

power-of-stories-richard-andrewsSmall Stories are flying round every organization every minute of every day. Like mosquitoes over a lake in summer they get everywhere: in the corridors, the restrooms, the stockroom and the kitchen. They hover around the photocopier and the water cooler, they get under the door and through the smallest gap in the window. They settle for just an instant on some exposed skin and, almost unnoticed, they give a little bite. One bite’s no problem, but over time there’s one more then another; Ten, twenty, and they start to have a real impact!

Power-Small-Stories-Richard-Andrews-2

Small stories are those little one-liners that are a great indicator of an organization culture.

A single story:

“I see the boss is out on the golf-course again”

tells you very little. But if the same kind of story is being repeated again and again, it becomes a big deal and whether truth or perception, it certainly has an impact on people’s beliefs and behaviors.

“I hear that the boss really bawled out Molly at the meeting last week”

quickly becomes a perceived truth that managers are disrespectful, abusive and don’t value the staff team. Forget about what it says in your values statement, it’s the Small Stories, truthful or perceived as truthful, that create the culture!

Leaders and managers are great ‘Big Story’ tellers: the annual staff day where the CEO delivers an upbeat PowerPoint about the great opportunities ahead, the monthly sales meeting, the annual appraisal, the staff newsletter and more! But most times leaders and managers don’t do small stories; they don’t like small stories. They get dismissed as ‘rumour or ‘gossip’. They’re seen as viral and uncontrollable, needing to be suppressed.

Using stories to turn negatives into positives and develop a great workplace culture.” Richard Andrews Tweet this!

You can spend a whole lot of energy trying to eradicate Small Stories but you’ve got no chance! Give up trying to kill your organization Small Stories and embrace them instead!

Small Stories don’t all need to be negative, there are great Small Stories too. What’s important is the balance between positive and negative.

So how about getting into the Small Story business?

Instead of trying – and failing to control those pesky mosquitoes, how about releasing a few of them yourself?

“It was great that Julie went that extra mile to close a deal.”

“The way John helped out in making sure that customer had a great experience of us made me feel really proud of our organization”

“There’s been a real feel of enthusiasm this week!”

Power-Small-Stories-Richard-Andrewsall have the potential to buzz around the workplace infecting people and counteracting any negative stories that may be hanging around. And if you and your management team are each releasing twenty Small Stories each week the balance between negative and positive will soon start to swing.

Positive emotion is just as contagious as negative.” ~ Richard Andrews Tweet this!

Be careful what your Small Stories are saying.

“Jane has really embraced the new strategy and has won a great new contract!”

is enough. It’s positive and everyone can draw whatever conclusion they wish to from it.

“Jane has really embraced the new strategy and has won a great new contract! It’s a shame everyone else isn’t as proactive as she is.”

ruins the whole impact! Suddenly we’ve got a story about how resistant and unhelpful the boss thinks the workforce are! What a waste of a good Small Story!

Equally, the thing that gives your Small Story wings is its truthfulness. If it’s not true, genuine and heartfelt it becomes nothing more than cynical manipulation.  Don’t be fooled, your people will see through that in an instant!

Please don’t ditch the Big Stories. The staff day’s fun, it’s informative and it makes your people feel they belong. Instead, add to it with a simple Small Story strategy. If you can stick to it, you might notice those mosquitoes giving way to butterflies!

About Richard Andrews

"Richard Andrews, Director of Corporate Instinct Ltd. has over twenty years experience in generating business improvement through learning, organisational development and executive coaching. Having managed a learning and development service in a commercial setting, driven organisational development services for a large, multi-site public service organisation and developed organisational development strategy and collaboration working across organizations for a national governmental organization, he has substantial experience of the development challenges and solutions in a wide range of organizations.

Above all else, Richard believes that work should be fun and recognizes the excitement and capability of an engaged and switched-on workforce!"

Connect with Richard Andrews

Comments

  1. Very powerful post Richard and so simple to put in action. Thank you.

    Kind regards,

    Joan

    P.S.: the mosquitoes-methaphor you are using is great

    • Hi Joan, I’m so pleased you valued my post. It would be great to hear how you have applied the concept.

      As for the metaphor, it does seem to work pretty well … although I’m not too sure what a positive mosquito looks like!

  2. Hi Richard. What a great concept to implement – the telling of small (positive) stories. I do agree with you that an entire organizational culture will be radically changed with a focus on the positive (and eradication of the negative). Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you for your feedback Susan.

      Seems to me that leadership teams often focus on the big, bold radical initiative. Well I like those too, – but I wonder whether I often just get drawn in by the drama of them. As humans, we are influenced more by our small, day-to-day contacts with people. There are not so bold or visible, nor do they look so good in an Annual Report – but they can be profound …. and they don’t cost so much either!

  3. Great post Richard …. and a salutary reminder of the possibilities for a little situation I’m dealing with in my work life just now! Thank you:)

  4. Nice angle Rich! I think the culture of an organisation really gets set at the water cooler and in the corridors and restaurants, rather than from the top. Tapping into that makes so much sense!

    I’ve come to realise that getting change going is the equivalent of setting a grass fire in a heatwave. Create a few sparks and embers in various random places and hopefully, with the right wind, they’ll join together.

    Cheers

    David

    • I love the metaphor of ‘lighting little fires’ – Some of them won’t catch, some will burn for a little while then slowly die out, but some will join, grow and change the landscape!

      Thanks David!

  5. Very creative writing technique Richard. Actually one that caused a paradigm shift. Saying positive emotions is just as contagious as negative speaks volume to what our mindset ought to be on a daily basis..POSITIVE!!! Thanks for sharing! Be blessed! Be positive!

    • Yvonne, I’m delighted by your comment – and honoured too!

      ‘Positive’ is pretty difficult for most of us to maintain – especially when we’re in the middle of a negative mosquito swarm! We owe ourselves the creation of an environment where we’re surrounded by as many positive stories as possible…

      ..You’ve certainly helped to create that environment for me today!

      • Hi Richard:
        Thank you for your timely response. What I would add is this: for those of us that are willing to lead the change with a positive mindset, it is the perfect antidote that would one day completely eradicate the negative mosquito swarm from among us. One step at a time toward that goal, it is the sum total that we look for at the end. It is possible!

  6. Simple, actionable and powerful! Thanks Andrew for sharing great nuggets here. My mind is abuzz with the possibilities that are the lay of my land :)

    • Thanks so much for your positive feedback!

      I’m currently using this approach in a business I’m working with. Without realising it, the leadership team have been sending out small stories that simply complain about the predominant small stories. Of course, all this does is add to them!

      There is something very powerful around offering a management or leadership team a new and positive approach… and of course, the ‘small story’ works on the storyteller’s perception too!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] "Leaders and managers are great ‘Big Story’ tellers: the annual staff day where the CEO delivers an upbeat PowerPoint about the great opportunities ahead, the monthly sales meeting, the annual appraisal, the staff newsletter and more! But most times leaders and managers don’t do small stories; they don’t like small stories. They get dismissed as ‘rumour or ‘gossip’. They’re seen as viral and uncontrollable, needing to be suppressed. You can spend a whole lot of energy trying to eradicate Small Stories but you’ve got no chance! Give up trying to kill your organization Small Stories and embrace them instead!" Small Stories don’t all need to be negative, there are great Small Stories too. What’s important is the balance between positive and negative. Read the full article to find out more about:- How to get into the Small Story business- Be careful what your Small Stories are saying  [...]

  2. [...] "Leaders and managers are great ‘Big Story’ tellers: the annual staff day where the CEO delivers an upbeat PowerPoint about the great opportunities ahead, the monthly sales meeting, the annual appraisal, the staff newsletter and more! But most times leaders and managers don’t do small stories; they don’t like small stories. They get dismissed as ‘rumour or ‘gossip’. They’re seen as viral and uncontrollable, needing to be suppressed. You can spend a whole lot of energy trying to eradicate Small Stories but you’ve got no chance! Give up trying to kill your organization Small Stories and embrace them instead!" Small Stories don’t all need to be negative, there are great Small Stories too. What’s important is the balance between positive and negative. Read the full article to find out more about:- How to get into the Small Story business- Be careful what your Small Stories are saying  [...]

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