It was in the late 90s Hema Hattangady inherited the energy management company, Conzerv, from her father-in-law. Playing the CEO’s role in a male-dominated industry, she faced many challenges.
She and her partners were determined to build a culture based on ethics and integrity. One significant challenge that she had to face (and one she has outlined in her book Lift Off), was dealing with corruption, both within and outside the company.
She recalls a visit to one of her local offices in Western India in 1998. During the visit, one of the managers expressed his concerns over her idea of building a business based on integrity. He said, “…the man you trust to lead national sales is corrupt. Following his lead, the three regional managers are also taking kickbacks from distributors in return for routing customer orders through them.”
This came as a shock and it got her to make a few calls that confirmed that these allegations were true. Unsure of what the appropriate action would be, she consulted TT – one of the partners, and her mentor.
She was advised three points of action:
First, immediately fire all managers involved.
Next, meet with the distributors and let them know what happened and why.
Thirdly, tell everyone in the company.
Decisions and actions like these disrupt business, and are highly uncomfortable for the leader and the entire company. But she went ahead anyways.
It took time to scale junior managers to take over senior manager roles and responsibilities. In the long run, her decisions and actions were proved right. Conzerv went on to grow as a robust company, and was acquired by Schneider in June 2009. (Harvard Business School has turned this into a case study).
This is a great example of how leaders can use storytelling to set the right examples to foster the right climate in the company.
Imagine if the incident of firing corrupt managers was not told to everyone in the company. Employees would continue working the way they used to and building a strong company based on their core values would have hugely challenging.
An organisation’s core values need to be communicated in powerful ways to employees. And leaders have the responsibility of communicating that through their words and actions.
Imagine you as a leader communicating to your people about integrity being one of your core values. How do you get employees to understand what integrity means in a business context and how to apply it in their everyday work life? Giving a talk about it would be one of the most boring and unimpactful ways.
In the above case, the story shared internally was enough to propagate to people what the leader believes in. The story sent a powerful message and acted as a guideline for the entire organisation to operate. It set the tone for the internal climate, and became an operating guideline.
What is a story you can tell to your team that will act as their guiding compass?
About The Author
Vinod Krishna is a brand storytelling trainer and consultant at DustyPaths.
He brings 3 decades of experience in leading people, projects, and businesses
to forge new paths in brand storytelling.
He is an avid barefoot runner, trekker, theater artist, and photographer.
Connect with him on LinkedIn