From Anecdote partner Indranil Chakraborty.
Close to midnight on a humid, monsoon-laden day in August 2011, a few of my colleagues and I were staring at hundreds of colourful sticky notes on a wall. They were the result of a day’s efforts by the senior management of my company, Mahindra Holidays, to create a corporate credo.
We were all excited by what we had come up with: ‘Making Every Moment Magical’. We were in the hospitality business and here was a credo that ticked all the boxes. It was inspiring, measureable, consumer-focused and applicable to everyone from the organisation’s CEO to its janitor. The challenge now was to articulate the supporting values.
Having taken part in this process in the past, I knew what to expect. We would start by saying we shouldn’t have more than four values, as that would be too much for the front-line staff to remember. We’d agree that those values had to include ‘integrity’, ‘customer-centricity’, ‘diversity’, ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘sustainability’, and then we’d argue about which one to drop. The end result, unfortunately, would be a value statement that sounded just like every other company’s value statement.
It was during such an agonising discussion that night, while we were looking down the barrel of mediocrity, that one of our consultants had a brain wave. Weren’t terms like ‘integrity’, ‘customer-centricity’, ‘sustainability’ etc. table stakes in today’s business world? Surely no company could afford to participate in the modern marketplace without demonstrating all of these at a high level. And so we decided to move these table-stake terms to a new document we called a Code of Conduct, which left us with a blank canvas on which to paint truly unique, differentiated values.
What followed was exhilarating. Within the hour, we had articulated four key values: ‘No room for ordinary’ (the ordinary is not magical), ‘Experience is everything’, ‘Make smiles’ and ‘Proud of our club’.
When the euphoria of having identified these values died down, however, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that this may have been just another esoteric exercise that would only result in a plaque on a boardroom wall. After all, just because the people at our head office got it didn’t mean that potential customers who lived in far-flung corners of India would get it.
Anxious to address this, I read whatever I could find on the subject of embedding values and spoke to whomever I thought might know what was best. But in the end I was no wiser. So I did what I guessed most people in my position would do – I decided to run workshops designed to share Mahindra Holidays’ new credo and values with the company’s top 500 managers.
It was while preparing for these workshops that serendipity struck. I was looking for stories with which I could make my presentation on values come alive when I stumbled upon anecdote.com. While I didn’t spend too much time on the site back then, I did sign up for Anecdote’s newsletter. A few months later, when all the workshops were over and my company had switched back into ‘business as usual’ mode, I discovered through a newsletter that Anecdote would soon be running a two-day business storytelling workshop in Delhi.
That workshop changed everything for me. I had never been much of a class participator as a student, yet I found myself asking questions and concentrating on every word Mark and Shawn said over those two days.
When I returned to the office, I launched into story-listening work. Using the narrative inquiry techniques I had learned in the workshop, I taught people in Mahindra’s resorts to spot and report stories of our new values being lived. And as stories started pouring in, my excitement increased.
Some contributions were forgettable: ‘The guest asked me for an extra towel, so I gave him one and hence I lived the value “Make smiles”’.
But then there were stories like the one that follows, which changed my belief in story into a conviction.
A receptionist at one of our resorts received a call from a guest who said that he and his family were stuck in traffic. The guest was worried that he would not be able to check in before the resort’s restaurant ended its lunch service, and so he requested that some food be packed and kept aside for his family.
As the receptionist relayed this message to the restaurant team, a colleague asked about the route the guest was taking to the resort. When the colleague was told what it was, he jokingly suggested packing some tea and cake with the lunch, as the guest would be a long time arriving – the road he was travelling on was blocked due to the inauguration of a local flower show.
The receptionist smiled and nodded. Half an hour later when his shift was over, without telling anyone, the receptionist loaded the packaged lunch onto his motorcycle. He then wove through small lanes for about 12 kilometres until he finally reached the guest and his family, whereupon he handed over their lunch.
That is ‘No room for ordinary’ in action. Within days of this story being shared, other similarly great stories about how Mahindra employees were living this value started flooding in from staff across all levels of the company.
Thanks to the tale of the receptionist, the formerly abstract line ‘No room for ordinary’ was now widely understood. I am sure that no amount of presentations, speeches, oaths, leaflets, banners, posters or screensavers could have gotten this message across as powerfully.
It was experiences like this that convinced me of the enormous benefits of harnessing the power of stories in a business context. A few months later, I quit my 21-year career as a marketer and reached out to Shawn and Mark to explore the exciting possibility of partnering with Anecdote to bring this power to India.
Indranil is a Mumbai-based leadership and communication specialist. IC has held senior roles, both domestic and international, in some of India’s most admired companies and now brings that experience plus story work to our clients. Connect with Indranil on: