Can you tell me a story that will make me laugh, cry, or cringe about how your organization has impacted a resident’s, team member’s, or someone else’s life?

By Steve Moran

I am a storyteller and a story collector. We know that storytelling is singularly the best way to sell and the best way to propagate culture.  

And yet, here is what frustrates me to no end . . .

When I talk to leaders in the senior living industry one of my favorite questions to ask is this:

“Can you tell me a story that will make me laugh, cry, or cringe about how your organization has impacted a resident’s, team member’s, or someone else’s life?”

What Shocks Me

Most of the time when I ask this question there is a long long pause that is followed by some version of these words, “We have so many stories . . .” followed by another long pause, then, “I can’t really think of a specific story right now.”

It is at this point that I want to bang my head against the wall!

Bullet Points Never Change Anything

Every organization has bullet points. You can find them on their websites, on your websites. They are always some version of “We care like crazy about our residents and our team members.” I have never ever seen a website where it says, “We could care less about our residents or team members.”  

The bullet points are fine — better than fine — they are really important; however, they just don’t grab a person’s heart.

Bullet Points Plus Stories

On the other hand, bullet points buttressed by stories change behavior and create powerful bonds. They inspire team members to be loyal and better. They make team members want to follow their leaders and be the very best they can be.

If There Are Really That Many Stories . . .

I ultimately believe there really are that many stories. Yet, I also believe that it is really easy for leaders to be so busy — so consumed with what they are doing — that they let great stories zoom past their head even when they hear them. It is also very easy to miss how powerful a story is.

Not from senior living but a great example:

Every weekend that I am home, I teach a class for 5th and 6th graders at my church. One day after church this kid — that I didn’t know nearly as well as some others — approached me to ask how much money was on a Walmart gift card I had given away as a prize for some game. (They were actually leftovers from a senior living breakout session I did, and most had $1.00 but one had $20.00)  

It was a weird question, honestly, so I told him I didn’t know and that he would have to use it to find out if it was $1 or $20. I had the sense that something else was going on, so I was patient. He then told me that it was the last week he was going to be in my class because he was changing homes and moving from mom’s house to dad’s house across the country.

It was clear he wanted me to know because I had somehow impacted his life. I don’t to this day exactly know how, but it was clear the impact I had was profoundly meaningful to him.  

I captured the story in my head. It keeps me going when I teach other kids and I tell that story to leaders who are struggling to find meaning in their work with kids at church.  

If we are paying attention, we will see and capture these stories. As we retell them, they will be a powerful vehicle for transforming your organization.

And watch out . . . if we cross paths I will ask you for a story!