Business Lesson : Stories Can Reach Your Heart

Adults love Stories.

“Tell me a story Papa”.

Is this a familiar request?

Why are children so obsessed with stories?

Because stories help us to understand ideas.

Aesop, when he authored fables, must have known instinctively what a well-regarded professor of neurophysiology articulated many years later: The oldest hardwired neural pathway in the human brain is for stories.

In religion, fables are parables.

Adults too love stories. Stories help people get it; they hear, and they understand.

Stories also reach places that no description can: people’s hearts.

Quality Fables

In 2014, I had experimented writing Quality Fables. The target audience was leaders who always considered Quality a delegable function.

The contrary is true. Quality must find a place in the board room, as well as in Business Strategy.

So my ambitious experiment was to showcase the role of leaders who have included Quality in their Business Strategy. Without sermonizing.

The Quality Fables were to be based on my real experience. They had to touch readers’ hearts. They had to be brief (300-400 words). The identities of the organizations and leaders / managers had to remain a mystery.

To my astonishment, authoring a Quality Fable involved more effort….primarily rework….than preparing for a one-day workshop.

I had to day dream and remember the subtle leadership actions that made Quality Happen in various organizations.

Dr Juran had taught us that Quality is defined by the Customer: External / Internal / Society. That helped construct my thinking.

So imagine the tsunami of thoughts associated with assignments in the following Groups: Tatas, Aditya Birla, Mahindra, Larsen & Toubro, Cummins, Indorama, and more. In India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Nigeria. In addition, there were numerous assignments in the Healthcare space in India, plus Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi, and Bumrungrad Hospital, Bangkok.

The first volume of 25 Quality Fables was published in 2014. It generated an easier way to communicate with leaders and managers in manufacturing and service organizations. Two more volumes followed in subsequent years.

Peels and Meals

Fable 5. Volume 1.

Once upon a time officers had separate canteen facilities to that of workers. Two decades ago the Earthmoving Equipment plant of a major auto unit in South India was no exception. A large workers’ canteen was operational, on a three shift basis, on the ground floor and a neat compact officers’ mess was designed for the floor above. The latter was also the regular venue for entertaining national and international visitors.

So what was the problem? The staircase leading to the officers’ mess was a challenge for the nasal system of the sophisticated visitors! Polite handkerchiefs partially came to the rescue. Why? The garbage containers were placed under the staircase and they chronically overflowed! Quality was certainly not a way of life in the vicinity of the canteen.

The new President of the plant, who was a quality enthusiast, questioned the volume and cost of garbage. A key piece of information was that the local municipality refused to shift all the garbage, resulting in the daily rental of private dump trucks. These dump trucks cost the plant Rs 7,000 per day. Over and above this was the cost of wasted food. Collectively, we refer to this as Cost Of Poor Quality (COPQ).

A management team was appointed by the President to solve the problem.

In order to understand the situation the team set up two types of bins; one for avoidable waste (such as cooked food) and the other for unavoidable waste (such as peels and packaging). Avoidable waste accounted for two-thirds of the total canteen waste.

The team then embarked on a diagnostic journey, interviewing workers at meal time (remember, the plant worked three shifts). Here is a flavour of responses to the question “Why do you waste food?”

“We are in South India and you serve us North Indian food.”

“The meal break is only 30 minutes, and the lines are too long. So I pile up food.”

“The ladles are too large. I could do with smaller servings.”

“The ‘thalis’ are much too large. So I pile up food.”

The remedial actions involved:

  • Inviting a team of wives, by rotation, to set the menu and supervise the same.
  • Scrapping the large ladles and ‘thalis’, and replacing them with smaller ones.
  • Investing the saved COPQ into worker welfare.

The workers canteen now doubles up as a recreation club with facilities for table tennis and carom. The walls are sparkling white and adorned with paintings done by the children of the workers. In fact they even published a calendar that showcased 12 of the best of these paintings.

Lessons Learned

  • Chronic problems tend to become culture issues
  • Challenge every norm
  • See the problem with your own eyes
  • Listen to the ‘Voice of Workers’
  • Treat the workers with dignity
  • Earn the trust of workers through leadership actions

Quality Fables Prize

In 2016, Qimpro launched an annual Quality Fables Competition, to capture the story telling skills of Middle Level Managers, working on Quality Improvement Projects.

Over the years, the Quality Fables Prize has been awarded to the following:

  • 2016 – STREAMing Quiet Time (Wockhardt Hospital)
  • 2017 – Game of Clones: A Success Story…! (Max Life Insurance)
  • 2018 – Wisdom, Love & Care of Grandma (JSW Global Business Solutions)
  • 2019 – Story of Tara, A Happy House Sparrow (Titan Company)
  • 2019 – Your Perception is My Reality (YES Bank)

Imagination is blossoming. The concerned authors of the Quality Fables are armed with a contemporary essential skill. Congratulations.

Random Thoughts

  • Story Telling should be a key competency of faculty in schools
  • Creativity Tools should be a skill mandated for faculty in schools and colleges
  • Stories should be depersonalized and have dry humour
  • Can a Start Up entrepreneur present his/her case as a story?
  • Author :

    Suresh Lulla

  • Resource Link :


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