Assistants are in a powerful position to notice the stories around them and influence through storytelling says Jean Gamester

Stories are all around us; stories of things gone wrong, of heroes who strove to achieve results, of villains who stole our customers for themselves.  Did you know that you can harness the power of these stories to make things happen?

The values story

Many companies have stated values that they look to their people to live by – integrity, respect and so on.  Most companies state those values, almost preach them and expect people to live by them.  And in so many companies the values that show up in reality, well they don’t match the stated values at all.  For Assistants, operating at the heart of the organisation, this is an opportunity to influence the values by the way they behave and what they notice.

Imagine, for example, one of the organisation’s values was customer service.  We can notice and highlight when people are living that value – like a story of the executive who struggled with a decision where one option was good for the customer, the other option was quicker.  We tell the story of how they found a way to make the customer option to work, as an example to others.

When executives are trying to work out who to give a sensitive assignment to, this is an opportunity for us to highlight what we have heard and seen in the most likely candidates, in the context of how they live the values.

The “what went well” story

Often, unconsciously, we focus on the things that have gone wrong, the challenges that we have had – this can drag all of us down.  To counter that, there is a fantastic technique by psychologist Martin Seligman called “What Went Well”.  He found that you can boost morale, productivity and self-confidence when you use this technique.

Ask people focus on something that went well over the past few days, the role they played in making that thing go well, and the impact on others.  For something so simple, it is surprisingly effective.  As Assistants, we have lots of interactions with people where we can encourage them to see the good things they have achieved, and thereby influence the morale all around us.

The “look back in pride” story

Lots of organisations and teams are forced to go through change.  External pressures in the economy, changed strategies internally leads to people having change thrust upon them.   It is common, and perfectly natural, for people to question and challenge change – it takes time and hard work to come to terms with it, no matter how logical the need might be.

We are often the people who hear first about the changes being made, often the ones who hear the doubts and fears.  One way we can help them is to encourage them to look back in pride.  Encourage people to tell stories to celebrate what was successful about their past.  Share our own stories too.  This helps all of us to recognise what makes us strong, what gives us a solid foundation upon which to build the changes to come.

The premortem story

It is our nature to do post-mortems.  To look back in time and look at the things that happened and how they led to us being here.  Those stories can have power for sure and we can learn from them but I love premortem stories – stories about how we got to an imagined future – even more.

When people are looking forward to a challenging goal, we can ask them to project themselves to the future and believe that the goal, whatever it is, has come true already.  Then ask them to look back from that future time and tell the story of how we got to that future.  We share the successes, the failures and the path that got us there.  And having imagined it, it sets the scene for them to take that route with courage, because we have helped them achieve it in their minds.

Simple Stories, Super Results

It still amazes me sometimes that simple stories like these can deliver results, and can give Assistants the power to influence and build teams.  These stories get into our minds and they influence how we think, how we feel.  And when we change how we feel, we can make new things happen.

Jean Gamester is founder of Semaphora which helps companies get the best from their people through leadership, communication and change management, as well as coaching and business simulation workshops. Jean’s various roles and assignments have included ... (Read More)

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