By Dan Cooper on October 31, 2018

How a Story about Chic-Fil-A, a Grandpa, and Wrestling Can Transform Your Business and Family Culture

My parents were in this weekend and, like grandparents may do, my Dad told a “Dan story” to my kids. When he talks, they listen. I can’t wait to be a grandparent to get that superpower.

The story he told shifted my kids thinking. Funny, how a story will do that.

My older brother was in grade school wrestling. I went to a few practices and thought it was cool, so I begged my parents to let me do it. I was in kindergarten and the smallest kid in the class. The program wanted you to be in 1st grade, but I wanted to do it sooooo bad so the coaches let me. I would be the youngest and smallest contender on the team and probably in the conference. I didn’t care.

I had 20 wrestling matches that year. I won zero. Zilch. Nada. Not only did I not win, but I didn’t score a single point, that is, until the very last match. That kid must have been tired from the previous matches because I escaped, or got away after being taken down onto the mat. Escapes are worth one point. Out of 20 matches, I scored a whole point.

I was ecstatic. I “won” that season from that one point.

As my Dad is telling this story, my kids are staring at me like I’m an alien. My eldest son asks why I would do it and lose all the time. Why put in all that work?

I got to talk about the journey versus the destination, the value of hard work, and you don’t always have to “win” to win. (Holy cow, that might have been the best Father-ing I’ve ever done. Thanks Grandpa!)

My Dad then drops the punchline to the story. “The next year he took 3rd at the end of year tournament, still as the smallest boy on the mat.” He made the point that the year of grinding it out allowed me to be the fighter and competitor to get the medal the next year.

I didn’t remember that until he said it. The light bulb went off, and I went to my old school junk box in the basement and, wouldn’t you know it, I still have that medal from 1st grade and showed it to my kids. 1st Grade! That’s how much that experience meant to me, and it solidified that this wasn’t just a goofy dad story. I had proof.

My kids stared blankly at us. I could see the wheels turning. They were crunching it internally.

Woah. How can I do this more? How can I possibly make my kids think this deeply about the right things, the big things, and show our values?

TELL MORE STORIES

I got the opportunity to see Chic-Fil-A VP of Sustainability and author of “It’s My Pleasure,” Dee Ann Turner, speak at a luncheon about how they built their culture through stories and consistency.

If you haven’t been to a Chic-Fil-A recently,  put it on your list. The food is good and it’s a fascinating place to gain insight into how culture affects the client and employee experience.

Dee Ann put a practical outline around how they implemented culture building with five steps.

STEP 1: DEVELOP YOUR FRAMEWORK
You can’t develop a culture without your framework in place. No matter what you want to call them: Vision, Mission, Values, Principles, Guidelines, Manifesto, Your Why … whatever … you need a north star.

STEP 2: LIVE IT, DO IT
Telling isn’t selling. Once you’ve defined the framework, you need to live it. Walk the talk. Remember that culture is Caught, Not Taught.

STEP 3: TELL STORIES ABOUT HOW OTHERS ARE LIVING IT
This is key and why it was so powerful for my kids. I could have told them to work hard. Instead, Granpa’s story pumped more of that value juice into them than anything I have ever told them.

STEP 4: BE CONSISTENT
Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do, and how you will do it. Tell stories of good examples. Tell old stories, tell new stories. Celebrate things done right. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We learn through stories because they involve action, emotion, and a hero or villain. Stories help your team catch the vision, feel the values, and understand your mission. When you stop doing it and talking about it, values fade.

STEP 5: BE PATIENT
One of the last things Dee Ann said was to be patient. Culture doesn’t happen overnight. You mold it one experience, action, conversation, and story at a time.

“It took me 45 minutes to tell you about our culture. It took us 45 years to implement it.”

Exactly.

How do you need to lean into your culture with action and consistency?

What stories do you need to start telling to infuse the principles and guidelines you want to uphold?

Published by Dan Cooper October 31, 2018