Organisations and their leaders can sometimes become fixed overly focused on making continuous changes to improve their organisations performance. For example they could always be looking at internal processes, how to maximise profits or ways to become more creative and collaborative. While this approach will drive continual improvements, it may fail to recognise and celebrate what the business is doing well.
It’s important to celebrate success in an organisation. This is because when organisations and individuals focus on what they are doing right, they are more likely to repeat these behaviours in the future. However, opportunities to celebrate successes are often very limited. An effective way which an organisation can celebrate success is through storytelling.
Learning from Stories
Stories can become an important part of an organisation’s culture. They help people to make sense of the environment they work in. What’s more, storytelling can influence an audience’s attitudes and behaviours. Within the health care industry for example, research has found that storytelling can help to change people’s behaviours which can lead to reduced blood pressure levels (1). In business, stories can implicitly indicate to employees the behaviours which are viewed as positive in the organisation, increasing the likelihood that these behaviours will be adopted by others. In this way, storytelling can shape norms, which in turn benefit organisational performance.
Storytelling can also evoke a strong emotional and neurological response which helps to facilitate learning. Research by neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that storytelling can cause oxytocin levels, the feel-good chemical that promotes empathy, to increase (2). In this way, storytelling can make people really care about what is being discussed and want to act. It’s true that data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act. This is why storytelling is one of the best ways to celebrate success, as it can inspire others to emulate the positive behaviours praised during a story.
How to Encourage Storytelling
At Lane4, the whole organisation meets up on a monthly basis, devoting time to discuss what each person’s highlight of the last month has been. Other organisations do this even more regularly, such as the technology firm Firespring. Every day at 11am, individuals from each team meet to spend 11 minutes to discuss what’s currently going on and to praise those who are doing well. Other organisations do not devote specific time to storytelling, but encourage it in a different way. For instance, one Danish car company use a two-foot-tall stuffed elephant toy which employees can pass between them after doing something exemplary. Not only does this provide recognition, but it also encourages other employees to ask ‘how did you get the elephant?’ This naturally opens up opportunities for informal storytelling about small successes.
It’s important that organisations dedicate time to focus on storytelling. It won’t always just happen, there needs to be opportunities and the freedom for people to be able to share their stories of success.
In conclusion, storytelling is a great way to celebrate and spread knowledge of successes. By not limiting celebrations to annual events, organisations and their people can continually shape a culture which is positive and learns from their successes, not just their failures.
(1) Houston et al. (2011). Culturally Appropriate Storytelling to Improve Blood Pressure: A Randomised Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 154(2), 77-84.
(2) Zak, P., Stanton, A. & Ahmadi, S. (2007). Oxytocin Increases Generosity in Humans. PLoS ONE 2(11).