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Your Stories Define Your Culture

Every culture has its stories. From the ancient mythologies of Greece and India to the modern stories about our Founding Fathers, cultures derive meaning from stories. And that isn’t limited to nations—your business has a culture, and that culture has its own stories.

What every leader needs to ask is, “what do our stories say about us?” These are the tales you tell new employees, customers, or partner organizations. Whether or not we realize it, every story we tell has a moral—after all, that’s why we tell them. Once you’ve figured out what your stories are, ask yourself, “what’s the lesson here?” Great stories have morals to them that don’t just apply to your business—they’ll be universal business truths.

And now for an IT Guys story.

Once upon a time, a client was trying to work offsite by remoting into their office computer from home. But every time they opened Word, or Excel, or anything really, all they saw was a bunch of “W”s. One after another. An endless string of “W”s, filling the screen. So (of course) they called The IT Guys

Our tech remoted into the computer—and into the same problem. The letter “w” was a runaway train.

“What could be the problem?” the tech wondered. “Maybe the keyboard controller has gone crazy. Or the motherboard‘s fried. Or … it could be anything. Who knows?”

So the tech went onsite. This tech, being the skilled IT professional he was, quickly pinpointed the problem; the office cat.

Yes, Sam Houston the cat (hey, we’re in Texas), was the source of the “malfunction.” Sam had positioned himself on top of the keyboard—probably on purpose (you know cats). One paw held down the “W” key.

Now, at this point, we had two options—treat our clients like idiots for not keeping better track of the cat or laugh it off.

We laughed it off.

This seems like the obvious choice, but there’s an important lesson to be learned; never ever treat clients like they’re dumb. A lot of IT companies don’t get that.

No one wants to feel dumb. So we make sure that our techs hear the story of Sam Houston the cat. That story instills in them the concept that even if a problem is silly, we don’t make a client feel dumb.

The universal moral here? Never—ever—make a client or member of your association or nonprofit feel foolish. Even if they might deserve it. Perhaps especially if they deserve it. By giving people a little grace, you humanize yourself.

And if you take the time to do that, your clients, or your members, or whoever you serve, are less likely to leave you—after all, you’re no longer just an entity to whom they write checks. You’re a real person. A person who is understanding and helpful (one would hope). And once that’s their mindset, you’re that much harder to toss overboard next time the budget gets a little tight. And in this time when most associations are experiencing a decline in membership, holding on to members is more important than ever.

Oh, and keep your cat off the keyboard.