It was a perfect morning in the most beautiful city in the world and, to top it all, the first day of my first “proper” job.
Fresh out of college, I was thrilled to have landed a two-week contract at a large insurance company. I was hoping to make a good impression, maybe even secure a permanent contract, and had splurged on a new pair of white court shoes to really knock their socks off (yeah, I know, but it was 1990!).
I arrived a little early and took a minute to study the fine-looking building rising majestically from the cobblestones on Greenmarket Square, in the heart of Cape Town.
I had been briefed by the agency that the head office management team worked on the top floor of the building. The 7th floor also housed the main reception and switchboard for the company. I was going to meet Zen Ellis, an exacting receptionist, who would be training me for two days, before going on annual leave.
What an opportunity! I pushed down the excitement as the sliding doors opened to reveal the stark white marble entrance. There were two lifts on my left and the Head of Security, Patrick Webb, manned the security desk situated against the wall on my right. I walked over to the desk, introduced myself to Patrick and signed in. Greeting him with a smile, I turned towards the lifts and pressed the button.
At that moment there was a flurry at the door. A short, rotund man entered the building carrying a black briefcase. His head was lowered and he walked swiftly towards me. There was a loud “ping” and the lift doors nearest me slid open. Patrick leapt out from behind the security desk and, almost elbowing me and the other staff and visitors out of the way, held open the lift door with one arm and ushered the man in with the other. “Good morning Mr Crank,” he said in a bright voice. There was a grunt from the recesses of the lift while the doors were closing, but still no sign of the whites of his eyes.
“Sorry.” Patrick addressed the assembled minions generally. “Mr Crank likes having the lift to himself. He doesn’t like talking to anyone.”
It seemed that the CEO had arrived at his office for the day.
In the pregnant pause that followed, I admit to a brief, albeit misguided, feeling of awe. And, while I didn’t understand the implications of what had happened at that moment, I did realise the power of Mr Cranks little ritual. There wasn’t one member of staff in the company who would get into the same lift as the CEO. Including me.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you this not-so-pretty story? Not unexpectedly, Mr Crank and his fossilised values only lasted seven years before the company was disbanded, sold, and the doors closed for business.
But, just think about the first story you were told by a new colleague when you joined your company.
We all know the day-to-day actions of employees demonstrate and expose a company’s culture and values. But do we collect these examples, sift through them, and write them down? Do we consider what they say about the company?
Communicated effectively, these stories and anecdotes can prove to be exceptionally powerful communication tools and reinforce the fabric of your brand, to both staff and customers. So, capture them. Everyone loves a good story.