How to Improve Internal Controls through Storybooks

by Evelyn Clark and Ron Rael

As the Controller of XYZ Corp., Sue is a proponent of Management by Walking Around. One morning, as she was strolling through the offices and checking in with her staff, she noticed several people on the Internet, engrossed in personal business. One employee was looking over his portfolio of investments and another was shopping at a well-known women’s store-clearly not job-related activities!

As Sue returned to her desk, her frustration grew. Just the month before, she and the rest of the executive team had issued a policy defining the parameters for using company access to the Internet. Obviously, the new policy was not being followed despite memos and a series of meetings to explain the policy.

“I just witnessed about $5,000 in lost productivity in one walk,” Sue thought. “There must be a more effective way to convey the message about what’s expected. What we’re doing is definitely not working.”

Does this sound like your company or your clients? Are you tired of reiterating the same policy messages-only to have them fall on deaf ears again and again? If this situation is one of the frustrations that you deal with on a regular basis, take heart: there is a powerful solution to the problem that will significantly enhance adherence to your policies. The solution is innovative, easier to implement than a policy manual that gets ignored, and effectively shapes behavior. It is an approach that has been called managing by ‘storying around.’

Replace Your Policy Manual with a Storybook

Disney Corporation is known for its storytelling for entertainment, but did you know that the company also uses stories to manage its operations? So do companies such as FedEx, The Container Store and Armstrong International. The reason is simple: people pay far more attention to stories than to boring policy manuals. The fascination with stories does not end with childhood. We all are drawn to, connect with and remember stories that relate to our own experiences.

“Santa Claus keeps track all year of who’s been good and who hasn’t. Unless you’re good, he won’t leave any of the things on your list; he’ll leave you a lump of coal instead.” Remember how that story motivated you to be aware of your behavior and to try your best to be on Santa’s “good” list? This is one simple example of the power of story in shaping behavior.

At Armstrong International, stories have been used since 1988 to shape desired behavior-without a policy manual in sight! Stories have proven to be effective in modeling the behavior that management wants, and people are always eager to hear new ones.

In fact, as soon as a new collection of stories is issued, employees dig into them like the latest best seller. They even take them home to read immediately! The proof of the storytelling system is clear: People use the stories to guide their own decision-making-and to remind one another of Armstrong’s way of doing business.

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Evelyn Clark, The Corporate Storyteller, is president of Clark & Company, a marketing communication firm in the Seattle area. A public relations practitioner with more than 20 years experience, she was accredited by the Public Relations Society of America in 1986. Her firm’s services include facilitation of retreats and communication workshops, marketing and communication management, media relations strategy development, and media training. All content © Clark & Company 1993-111 (unless otherwise indicated). All rights reserved.