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The power of stories

Circulating stories about ‘how we do things around here’ – the behaviours that mark your organization out as distinctive – models those behaviours so people know what is expected of them. The great thing about leading through stories is that they can become viral; other employees and customers take up the story and circulate it.

Here’s an example, told to me by Lyell Strambi, Executive Director of Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline.

Virgin has a number of legendary employees, who epitomize Virgin Flair. If you are a manager at Virgin and have to define Virgin Flair to a new recruit, you might have a hard time defining it. But, by telling real stories describing it in action, you get the message across.

One employee who epitomized Virgin Flair in action, said Strambi, was an in-flight attendant called Sue Rawlings, with a larger than life personality. Just before serving the ice cream that Virgin offers to passengers while they are watching the in-flight movie, this particular attendant would duck into the galley, smear ice cream all around her mouth, then emerge and start serving.

As she moved down the cabin she would pronounce very loudly, so that people would look up at her, ‘I never touch this stuff myself; I’m watching my weight, but people tell me it’s delicious. Enjoy!’ The effect was a wave of laughter that moved down the plane with her, as passengers looked up from plugging in their headphones or adjusting the volume control.

What stories do you have illustrating ‘the way we do things around here’? Are they as distinctive as this one? If not, then your customer experience probably isn’t that distinctive either.

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