I’m part of an employee recognition committee within the business I lead. This grassroots effort (for the people, by the people) recognizes the individual contributions of team members and reminds us what values we hold in the highest regard as a culture. We call it the “Higher Gear Award,” and it takes into account an individual’s impact on clients, people and the business overall.
The Higher Gear award is in its third year and we just held our 4th annual ceremony (it began as twice a year, but the team quickly determined an annual ceremony was a more appropriate frequency). And this year, we had a record number of nominees. Sixteen individuals were nominated by their peers, which represents over 10% of our team. That alone made me proud. Not only do we have a great number of award-worthy team members, but we have a team that recognizes greatness in their colleagues – enough to proactively take measures to recognize them.
From the beginning, we felt that in order to capture the true essence of the person and understand the values of the culture, we should conduct interviews to understand how the nominee impacted clients, people, and the business. In other words, we documented the nominees’ “stories.”
The power of stories
The process of capturing these stories has been enlightening. Sure, it helped us understand and gather support for the nominations, but more than that, it helped us understand who the nominees really are as *people*, not just employees. Where do they come from, what makes them tick, how are they unique, how do they make people feel? We actually got to know them, not just for their professional accomplishments, but for their personality and personal interests, as well. We learned *who* was on our team, not simply what they did.
We spend too much time rushing through life – listing tasks, accomplishing tasks and looking for the next task. We do not spend enough time engaged in storytelling, both as the storyteller and the listener. Stories are powerful, if you are willing to spend the time to ask and have the desire to listen.
My best teachers have been natural storytellers. The best public speakers are storytellers; even politicians can win you over with a powerful story. Why? Storytelling creates human connection and trust in a more authentic fashion than any other approach. There’s a science behind it. I recently came across the 2017 CEO article, Using Stories to Build Relationships. It discusses the science behind our brain’s reaction to storytelling and it’s fascinating.
The article explains how human beings are all creatures of emotion and when stories are told, each area of the brain is working together, essentially sending our emotions into overdrive. Ultimately, storytelling has the power to fast-track trust and strengthen relationships naturally.
As leaders, we need to find our story and the stories of our team members. I have found that it helps to better understand the individual, the team and the culture we are building.
Break through barriers
A lot has been written lately about how much cultural and behavior change is needed in order to effectively move businesses forward in a rapidly evolving future. This starts from within, and I believe an internal storytelling process may just be the way to break the barriers of stagnant culture.
I’d like extend my sincere congratulations to our most recent 2019 Higher Gear award recipient Ryan Feeley (pictured between Joe McCabe and me), and to past winners, Patrick O’Donnell, Mark Hanna and Merissa Hall. You and your stories make me proud to call you colleagues – and friends. Thank you for all you do and for allowing us to honor your stories in this way.