Creating Powerful, Authentic Culture Stories

weaving culture stories“This was it. This was a chance to show the world something special. It was time to do something.”

The new hire sits back and listens as the CEO weaves a tale of suspense. This isn’t a fictional story—it’s a true-to-life recount of how he was able to launch the company by finding a need and filling it in a unique way.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the HR leader at a local company, GATR, and she explained this part of the onboarding process as “GATR 101.” After all of the usual new hire tasks have been accomplished, the CEO walks new staff through the story of how he used the company’s fledgling product on site during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to support the Red Cross, other non-profits, and local citizens. This is a powerful story, but it doesn’t stop there.

“The goal is to help communicate the excitement we have for our customers and what we do. This isn’t a job, it’s a mission. And the sooner we can indoctrinate new hires into that fanatical culture, the better,” said Teri Pung, HR Director for GATR.

Creating Your Story

I’ve talked with other companies over the years that have used this same tactic to improve the onboarding process and inject an element of the company’s culture from day one. Here are three ways to begin thinking about your own culture story and how to share it.

  • Emotions matter. When it comes to storytelling, the best ones drive emotional responses. Anger, excitement, or even sadness can all help to create a mental link between the story and the work people do every day. For instance, in the story above, just picturing the company’s leadership standing in a recently-flooded parking lot helping an individual communicate with her family outside the state is heartwarming. Tie an emotion in, and people will remember it more strongly.
  • Make it a mission. Similarly, if you can help staff understand that they are a part of the same larger puzzle as the story, then you can connect them to something more important. Non-profits have the ability to do this well, and many organizations are turning to social responsibility initiatives to help satisfy this desire in a more meaningful way. Get people excited about the path you’re on and how the organization is making the world better.
  • Make it sharable. I’ve told the story above several times over the past week. Why? Not to make light of the situation, but because it is a good story. There’s a problem (hurricane destroys communications infrastructure), a solution (mobile communications technology), a hero, and a satisfying resolution. That’s a story interesting enough for people to tell even if they were not affiliated with the organization.

Your company may already have a basic story in place, but I would encourage you to look at the points above to see if it elicits an emotional response, is mission-oriented, or is sharable. If not, it might be time to brush up on your storytelling skills to enhance the impact of this early stage employee cultural experience. It’s true that not every company has the luxury of an exciting product or service to talk about. But creating an authentic story with a human element can go a long way toward making this a reality.

If you’re wondering what impact this might have long-term, my colleague Laci Loew shared some insights into the business impact of culture:

Operational and talent decisions and activities underscore culture as a powerful driver of employee engagement, talent management, and employment brand. In fact, of organizations with high-performance collaborative cultures, 65% report very good or excellent engagement of their critical talent segments. Compare that to organizations with competing/controlling cultures, and only 8% report very good or excellent engagement in the same talent segment.

Does your organization have a version of this already in play? Is it embedded in the new hire assimilation process, or is it used elsewhere in the business?

Ben Eubanks, Associate HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

Like what you see? Share with a friend.

Ben Eubanks



Stay connected

Get notified for upcoming news subscribing

Related Content

Ben Eubanks