Skip to content

Stories from the Road: Dallas

4 min read

Company values can be just a plaque on the wall. Ten sets of words, like the Ten Commandments, that sit there and no one really knows much about them. And no one really cares.

This month I bring you an example of how an SVP of a financial services firm used personal stories to impart the values of his organization among a group of several hundred newly acquired workers. The event was called: Our Culture and Values: The Executive Speakers Series.

A very even-keeled, logical and analytical person who had never before told a story at work, our SVP wasn’t sure how the audience would react: “I’m willing to try [telling stories] because I think it will bring our culture to life in a more vivid way than if I just talked through a long list of what our values are.”

The Story

Company values can be just a plaque on the wall. Ten sets of words, like the Ten Commandments, that sit there and no one really knows much about them. And no one really cares.

Or they can be incredibly powerful. They can mean something, if they are shared. They can mean something to every person in the company and they can drive real action and real results.

I got to observe first-hand an example of a company whose values were being lived by their employees at Disney World. I think it was the first time I saw how values could drive real action with real customers. Me.

About 10 years ago I took my daughters to Florida. My girls were three and seven at the time and they were so excited about going to DISNEY!

We got up early. My girls put on their Princess costumes. And then we went to the park. They ran through the gates. They went on every ride; up and down, sideways, they spun around. And then, they got to meet The Princesses. Oh my. You should have seen the smiles on their faces as they held the Princesses’ hand and got their picture taken. What a morning.

You can imagine after running around this much, they got hot. And they got tired. And they got hungry.

Well, there is an answer to that problem. It’s called an ice cream cone.

The audience laughed at this. It was the laughter of recognition. You could feel everyone in the room grow closer as they saw in their own mind’s eye the image of two little girls about to get ice cream.

Pretty close by we saw a little ice cream stand being operated by a young guy, a teenager. My girls ran there faster than they’d run into the park that morning and they got in line. When it was their turn they got up on their tippy toes and peeked over into the freezer. They looked at all the big choices and of course they picked the ice cream with the big Mickey Mouse ears.

My three year old was so excited when she took the bar from the kid. She bent her head to take a big bite out of one of Mickey’s ears and in her excitement…

He took a pause here to build suspense.

…she dropped the entire thing on the ground.

At this point a few people in the audience spontaneously cried: “oh no.”

Tears welled up in her eyes, but before she could cry, the teenager who has sold her the ice cream appeared, as if by magic, right next to her and he handed her another bar. When I offered to pay he said: “Don’t worry about it, it’s on the house.”

Now, all kinds of families go to all kinds of amusement parks every day around the country and a lot of them buy ice creams. I’m pretty sure that at least a few kids drop their ice cream on the ground. I’m also pretty sure that at Disney more of them have my experience than at a place where some teenager never got trained in the company’s values and doesn’t care about his job or the customers.

This experience got me very curious about Disney. Imagine what has to be true about their systems, about their values for a teenager to act like he did with my family.

And so, I looked up their values. Walt Disney himself is supposed to have said that the mandate of Disney World is to:

1. Create a magical experience.

2. Make customers happy.

That’s it. Simple.

You can imagine what their training has to look like, even for a summer job for a teenager. How their systems are created so that when a Manager looks at the total amount of ice cream sold at the end of the day – he doesn’t frown when he finds out he’s five dollars short. But instead he asks: “What happened?” And then he celebrates the fact that his staff made a customer happy that day.

That is what we are about too. At the highest level we are about excellence and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing for our shareholders, for our customers and for our associates.

Our SVP went on to tell several more stories about how his company handled difficult moments during 9/11 and the economic crisis of 2008. And how during his 12 years with the company he’s been proud to work for an organization where people pull together as a team, respect each other and look toward the long term for success.

His presentation lasted about 30 minutes. After which he opened it up for questions. He was surprised when the question period lasted for almost 45 minutes. The moderator had to cut off the conversation. They’d ran out of time.

A few months later our client told me that his boss had invited him to speak again to other groups within the organization. His boss reported:

“…this was the best presentation we’ve ever had about who we are. I can’t tell you how many new employees have come up to me and told me what a difference you made to their perception of us.”

That’s the power of stories. They teach. They make people care. To quote Walt Disney: They are magical.

We’d love to share your experience with telling stories at work. If you would like to be featured in this series, please email us or leave a comment below.


Virtual Presence Guide: How to Help Virtual Teams Create Authentic Connections

Download this guide to discover tips and best practices to help your teams be productive and engaged when working virtually.

View Resource