Wag Your Tale

If the anecdotes you hear are better indicators of your success and ideals than the facts and figures, you have the makings of a storied business.

Teresa Lever-Pollary didn't like the way things were going. The CEO of Nightime Pediatric Clinics Inc. (NPC) in Midvale, Utah, noticed that as the company grew to four clinics and 70 employees, it was losing touch with the values that had helped it become a successful provider of after-hours medical care for children. Lever-Pollary decided the best way to express those values was not through a corporate mission or values statement-it was through stories.

Lever-Pollary, 42, began asking Nightime Pediatrics' employees, ex-employees and patients to tell her their stories about the company. One of her favorites was a nurse's recollection of the way a doctor lured an ant from inside a child's ear using a dab of cake frosting. The story, especially the ending that depicted the doctor gently releasing the ant outdoors, perfectly illustrated Nightime's focus on carefully and professionally caring for small living things.

After Lever-Pollary had collected 80-plus stories, she had them printed in a book she distributes to employees, job applicants, patients, various other health-care providers and partners. That collection of pediatrics parables supplements NPC's policy manual, mission statement and values manifesto, and it serves as a training textbook while enhancing NPC's employee orientation course and general repository of corporate culture and tradition. "It's been a very valuable project for us," Lever-Pollary says.

Gathering and recounting corporate stories has also proved a valuable project for corporate giants like 3M, Eastman Chemical, Ford Motor Co., Armstrong International Inc. and Kaiser Permanente Health-care. So says Richard Stone, a Maitland, Florida, management consultant who has worked with these firms and others to turn storytelling into an effective management tool. Stone is president of the StoryWork Institute, which designs training programs for team-building and leadership development. He and other experts agree that story-telling can not only augment or replace such things as policy and training manuals, but it can also do things that conventional corporate communications can't.

Lever-Pollary recalls that shortly after beginning the story-gathering project, a long-time employee called her at home, practically in tears, to say that participating in the effort had for the first time shown her how she contributed to the organization. Lever-Pollary says, "At that point, I really started to see the benefit of the project."

Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, writer who specializes in business topics and has written for Entrepreneur for 11 years.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wag Your Tale.

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