Hate training employees? Try doing this instead

Way back in the dark ages of time, before Netflix or TVs, or typewriters, before papyrus or hieroglyphics, our ancestors would sit around a campfire at night and one of the older members of the tribe would tell a story. These stories were not random. They were part of an oral tradition designed to keep the tribe safe, to codify “normal, polite” behavior, to help us to learn from past mistakes and to develop a better life for our family and friends.

Many of these stories would survive for hundreds and thousands of years, through many shifts in storytelling technology, because their message was relevant and wrapped in a tale or myth that was captivating and engaging.

Through the millennia humans got “smarter”. We developed writing and books, then computers and “eBooks”, then social media, status updates and “likes”. We have developed a greater capacity; we are consuming more and more information, more words–but we are valuing those words less. Our words are ephemeral, the half-life of a tweet is measured in minutes. I download countless ebooks in a week, but do I read them?

At the same time, we find ourselves complaining about how lazy and soft our young people are. How they don’t know how to act, their values are so different from ours. Haven’t they learned from our mistakes?

What stories are you telling?

I spoke to a middle-aged business owner who was bemoaning his company’s lack of culture. “I could spend hours training employees, but then they’d just leave anyway. Why haven’t they learned basic etiquette? Where’s their work ethic?”

“The only thing worse than training employees and having them leave is not training employees and having them stay,” was my response.

But it got me thinking. The elder who captivated the attention of the tribe around the campfire was honored for his role as storyteller. People wanted to be with him, they wanted to hear his stories. The elder wasn’t burdened by his role as storyteller, it was his privilege to do it.

What if we changed our attitude about the development of our young team members. Instead of thinking, “I expect these folks to come to me at age 20 able to productively serve my business and my clients,” we might want to think, “I’m so grateful for all the people who shaped my maturity as a business person. All the leaders who took time out to tell me their stories. I’m so lucky to have this opportunity to shape the next generation of leaders!”

  • Tell stories that convey your company values. Look at the values you’ve established as a company and reflect on times you’ve seen people in your company make decisions that align with those values.
  • Tell stories about your mistakes. People love to hear about times when the boss messed up. Don’t worry about them thinking less of you — they know you mess up! By owning it you get the chance to talk about what it was like for you, from the inside. You can help them think through how they might handle their own screw ups.
  • Tell heroic stories. Maybe you haven’t done anything heroic, but you may have a mentor, or a client, or a friend who has. Hero stories are always captivating and they inspire others to act heroically. (The world could use more heroic actions!)
  • Tell funny stories. We could always use a good laugh, especially if you are the butt of the joke. Take yourself down a peg — it does wonders for building trust and loyalty.

Remember these aren’t lectures, they are stories. They have suspense, action, pathos, and a good conclusion. They aren’t long either. You can tell them in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

The leader who takes time to curate her own stories, and those told to her by her mentors–and gets good at telling them (even repeating them more than once)–might see an amazing turn around. Not only would the “burden” of training employees become a privilege; but the “boss” might become the mentor, a source of wisdom, an authority. And your stories would shape the culture of your office. Your stories would set the standards, and speak more volumes about success and achievement and hard work than a lecture ever could. Who among us wouldn’t want to work for someone who has wise stories? Someone who is not too proud to share both the screw ups and the lessons to be learned? Take the first step, and take a risk. Tell just one of your stories; and see what happens.

The only way to know is to try — what stories are you telling?

Photo credit: Terinea IT Support

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