Diversity and inclusion initiatives have commenced across the country. Fortune 500 companies, board rooms, and executive offices are diversifying daily. Journalists are reporting and researching best practices and workplace culture is constantly changing. As we study workplace culture and work hard to define core values, it is important to consider the stories behind the people.
If you were to ask any CEO or business owner their most valuable resource, they would tell you their employees. In other words, people. The most expensive line item in every organization’s budget is also people. So why don’t we take the time to get to know people? Those who purchase real estate learn everything they can about the property before purchasing. They will even spend thousands on the improvement of the asset. The same goes for purchasing expensive vehicles. The first thing we do when purchasing a vehicle is asking for the carfax. That carfax provides a written history of the vehicle, all maintenance completed, and any accidents that occurred previously. During the interview process candidates present a resume,
which gives work history, relatable skills, and education. There’s so much missing from this information that matters. What would change if you only knew their story?
Knowing a person’s story produces empathy. While one may not completely relate to individual experiences, struggles, and triumphs, it changes how you treat someone when you know the journey they’ve taken to arrive where they are. For example, let me tell you about my childhood friend, Roy.
LeRoy and I went to high school together in Kenner, Louisiana. He loved to play basketball but was never quite good enough to make the team. Unlike my other peers, Roy had a lot of money. He always wore the newest Jordan shoes whenever released, drove a brand new car, and nice jewelry. We were all jealous of his life and treated him badly because his life seemed so much easier than ours. One day, Roy offered to drive me home after practice. On the way to my house, he stopped at his home to check on his mom. Inside his home, I noticed his family pictures which included his father, who was a military veteran. I asked about his father because I never met him. What he said changed how I saw him. He said, “My dad was killed two years ago in a car accident by a drunk driver. That’s why we have so much money. I’d give it all back just to have my dad here again.” As you can imagine, this changed how I treated Roy.
We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” but we still do it. We make judgments about our peers, our colleagues, our supervisors, and executives in the workplace. Usually without knowing their story. We assume that those in leadership were gifted their position because of a relationship. We assume women in leadership slept their way to the top. We assume people of color are there due to affirmative action. Another word for these assumptions is unconscious bias. It affects how we hire, who we hold accountable, and how we treat people in the workplace.
Knowing each other’s story takes time, intentionality, and care. It’s potentially the most gratifying experience one can have at work. Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike than we are un-alike.” It’s through our stories that we see just how much alike we are. The story of the people is the story of the company, and its a story worth telling.