I never met my grandfather on my father’s side. At least not that I remember. He and grandma were killed by a drunk driver when I was one year old. I have no memories of them other than those created by pictures I see and stories I hear.
Last week, when mom had a fuzzy recollection that grandad had earned a patent, a couple of us dug in to find it. Sure enough there it was. In 1940, he filed and then sold a patent for a unique new fast opening and closing door and compartment on the sides of delivery trucks. Grandpa worked a milk route back in the days before milk tanker trucks when the job called for loading heavy containers of milk into the truck. Here he was trying to make his job easier and trying to solve a practical problem.
For me, the story spoke to where my dad got his own sense that he, too, could solve any practical problem as well as his own ability to work with his hands. Those were skills my father had somehow passed on to his own five children and I had never quite understood how. I had never quite understood where our universal assumption that we can solve anything had come from, or where our naïve matter-of-fact expectation that we can fix anything our hands can touch came from.
Now at just three years old, my firstborn already knows, “Daddy can fix it!” Even my one year old brings me broken toys exclaiming, “This! This!” The question on my mind isn’t how to fix the broken thing, but how to keep passing through example the tradition that they, too, can achieve whatever they set their mind to because it will never occur to them they can’t.
We All Want to Leave a Legacy
It’s not just me with my kids. Your employees care about their impact and the legacy they leave behind. (Even as I write that, I can hear somebody choke on their coffee… “My employees??” Yep, even them.)
Your employees want to know that they’re part of something bigger. They want to see that they are fulfilling a bigger purpose. Yes, they want to collect a paycheck. But they also want the opportunity to grow and use their skills, and they want to know that the role they play has an impact on their company and on the world around them.
If you doubt this, write up a little one or two question “pulse survey” and ask them things like:
- It is important to me that I understand how my work impacts our end customers.
- My co-workers and my company make me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself.
Ask for a rating on a scale of 1 to 5 from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” and see what happens.
As social creatures, we want to know that what we do matters and we get a little twitchy when we doubt that it does.
Find and Tell Your Stories
Chances are you formed at least one or two incredibly strong, vivid images in your mind from the story I told in the opener above. If you’ve read this far, you know I care about family and helping people succeed, and you have an incredibly strong story to know I’m telling the truth.
Now it’s your turn. I used a personal story. Your challenge is to find business stories.
You have your mission. (Right? You do, right?) What stories do you have about fulfilling your mission? I’m not even talking about big stories. I’m talking about any stories, preferably from your customers, about fulfilling your mission.
Find and tell stories about fulfilling your mission, and do it often. Tell it to your employees. Tell it to your customers and people who you want to be your customers.
Unlike the empty-sounding promises of most marketing, stories are real. Stories are powerful because they help us see, feel, and virtually experience a positive outcome without going through it ourselves.
Another time, we’ll talk about how to find those stories.