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The Moral of the Story

Spend just five minutes with Bob Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, and you’ll discover two things: His optimism is infectious and his passion for providing a fulfilling work environment for his employees is palpable. These two traits have been central to the success he has achieved at the helm of the privately-held capital equipment and engineering consulting giant, a thriving $1.8 billion global industry leader. In the post below, Bob writes about the importance of an organization’s “story” to it’s workplace culture:

Everyone has a story to tell.

You’ve probably heard Aesop’s fables in one form or another, either through a story told out loud from memory, a book read to you as a child or an adaptation in a movie or cartoon. Stories like these are passed down through generations in different iterations.

This type of oral history can tell us a lot about our ancestors and their cultures. And just as those bits of folklore can tell us much about yesteryear, our stories of today can say plenty about who we are right now.

When we at Barry-Wehmiller established our Guiding Principles of Leadership in the early 2000s, we didn’t want it to become just words on a wall. We wanted it to be instilled in our team members’ heads and hearts and lived out every day.

How did we make that happen?

We began by talking to our people throughout our locations and presenting our vision of the ideal culture to them. As we continued that practice, we began to hear personal stories from our team members signaling that our aspirations of a people-centric culture were beginning to take hold. Many of those stories are regularly re-told on this blog and became the basis for our book, “Everybody Matters.”

Words in our vision statement aren’t proof of success. But the positive stories we hear from team members, from the corporate office to the far reaches of our global organization, are. These stories show we are making progress toward an organization where everyone feels valued and cared for. When the positive stories stop, we’ll know we’ve lost sight of our vision.

Recently, I came across a column from the New York Times about how stories offer great perspective on the culture of a company, “The One Question You Should Ask About Every New Job.”

The author, Adam Grant, gives advice to a former student starting her career. In the article’s second paragraph he says something profound:

“When it comes to landing a good job, many people focus on the role. Although finding the right title, position and salary is important, there’s another consideration that matters just as much: culture. The culture of a workplace — an organization’s values, norms and practices — has a huge impact on our happiness and success.”

How can anybody know anything about a company’s culture without having worked there?

“…the more defining parts of a culture are its values. Values are the principles people say are important and, more crucially, the principles people show are important through their actions.”

What do the stories in your organization say? Are you listening to them?

Bob Chapman/February, 2016