During my 40th year of life I was introduced to my first cousin, who is now a dear friend and the sister I always wished I had. Recently, she and I took a little trip together to a restful remote retreat to connect. We spent our days cooking for each other and our nights alternating between soul-searching conversations about the meaning of life, laughing hysterically and lamenting that we didn’t know each other earlier in our lives. One morning as I was sipping my coffee on the front porch and drinking in the beautiful mountain sights and sounds, the tantalizing smell of breakfast inspired an epiphany. While I was looking forward to eating the food, what I was really looking forward to was the story behind the recipe. At each meal we shared a memory related to the concoction – where it had come from, other times it had been made or disastrous outcomes to creative alterations. This was not only a glimpse into a moment in the cooks past but in sharing the story it became part of our combined present and would likely influence our actions in the future. (For example, whereas raisins are a good addition to the fruit salad, raspberries are not.) These dinner conversations essentially passed down information or “lessons” to be used in the future. The stories in tandem with the multisensory experience of eating ensured the lessons are indelibly marked on our memories.
What’s interesting is that this happens in companies all the time. Think of the recruiter chatting to prospective employees over lunch or what a manager says at a team celebration. These are moments in time that are remembered very clearly by the listener but not thought much about by the speaker. What “lessons” did the listener absorb and then go on to tell others about? These are called the verbal artifacts that contribute to the tone and tenor of your culture. The opportunity is to understand the power of these situations and be intentional about the stories that are shared so they support the company’s culture, goals and dreams. Do you know what “recipes” are being passed down in your company?