Gift of History: People and Their Stories Matter Within Organizations

Holiday season brings us gifts—some gifts surprise us, some gifts become acquired taste, but all gifts fill us with joy—the joy of sharing with family and friends. In a similar vein, on the career front, what could be a great gift that could propel the talented and passionate? My answer: Gift of history. If you are puzzled, let me explain.

While war veterans have their moments to reflect back and share, what about the rank and file in the business world? What are they proud of? What are their stories within the organization’s history? Does anybody new joining their organization take the time to seek these stories? The most successful ones almost always do.

For others, here is an often repeated corporate story. A “catch” hire, with the requisite pedigree which usually includes words like smart and talented, is announced with great expectations. The new hire is on a mission to prove that he/she is a worthy hire. By the time first deliverables happen, the initial honeymoon is over and reality sets in. The discordant note is usually about fit. Exits like Ron Johnson as CEO from JCPenney, Henrique De Castro as COO from Yahoo are some high-profile examples. I am sure there are other examples in your organization that you can relate to.

Context is important, Her/ His story is key.

On the flip side, let us look at the life of Gandhi. He returned to India in 1915, his most prominent movement was the salt march in 1930—when he broke the salt laws of the then-British Raj at Dandi, it resonated with every person in society. It was a movement that he spearheaded after understanding the stories of the common man.

In the book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, Lou Gerstner gave us an insider’s view on the turnaround of IBM in the 1990s. In his first 100 days—a more compressed timeline reflecting corporate deliverables—he spent time hearing the stories from customers and employees.

Both of them did not have a preset notion of what to do. They earned the respect and buy-in by understanding the stories that mattered. Leadership loyalty is earned and not given. History is a great tool to understand the context before providing insights, solutions and even leadership.

The Pros And Cons Of The Remote Work Revolution

Just under a year ago, computer manufacturer Dell announced plans to further expand their telecommuting and remote work initiatives. In doing so, they not only pointed to the time and money their employees saved by not having to commute but also the $12 million per year the company was saving in office space costs. Additionally Dell reported that productivity had not been affected negatively at all even as their remote workforce headed toward 50 percent of their total employees. However it now seems that another computer industry giant that had previously embraced a similar philosophy on telecommuting is reversing course in a big way.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, IBM has issued an ultimatum to many of their remote workers: start commuting to a regional office or resign. This decree is surprising for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that as many as 40 percent of the company’s employees worked outside of a traditional office at one point in time. Furthermore the company has even created products for what they dubbed “the anytime, anywhere workforce” — so why the change of heart?

IBM says that bringing their employees back to the office will lead to better collaboration and faster output. This may be surprising considering collaborative tools have only improved in recent years. From various cloud services that allow employees to work on the same document at one time to messaging services like Slack that make it easy for teams to communicate in a quick and organized way, arguing that collaboration is a problem now might strike some as odd. Still, one could easily argue that no amount of instant messaging and video chat compares to the creativity that flows when great minds gather in one room.