How a CEO used a story to end a labor stand-off

Truths embedded in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors (Tennyson)

A story about eggs saves the day
Image: Canva

A CEO I know was hired by a corporation to bring new life and order into the corporation. He accepted with enthusiasm only to find within the first two days there had been a long-standing dispute between staff and managers about working days.

A bad inheritance

Somewhere in the past, the staff had wangled a 9 day working fortnight (i.e. one day off every two weeks) out of the previous CEO but it hadn’t ever worked well. The present management team could not get the staff to budge.

The CEO called a meeting and told a story

‘There was an egg processing plant that had a reputation for doing right by egg producers and for supplying retailers smoothly. The egg processing plant had a pretty straight forward system. People stood at ‘goods inward’ level receiving the eggs from the farm trucks. They passed the eggs to a lower level down a conveyor belt where other workers waited to wash and grade the eggs ready for sale.

However, things changed over time. Sometimes the people at the lower end weren’t there to receive the eggs which smashed all over the floor.

Sometimes the people at the top level weren’t there so the eggs piled up and the people at the bottom stood around with their arms folded.

The business fell into chaos. There was mess, grumbling, irate farmers and unhappy customers. The owner had to hire people to clean up all the mess.

Now the reason I’m telling you this is that this organisation is actually that egg processing plant. We’ve got customers wanting service but the key player isn’t here on the day they want it. We’ve got day-to-day processing backing up because the processors aren’t on duty so we can’t get things done in a systematic way. We’ve got people wanting to buy but there’s no-one here to take their orders.

It’s clear that the only people saying they’re happy about the nine days are you, but you’ve actually made your workplace a mess, made each other grumpy and ticked off all the suppliers and customers. Now you’ve got this dispute going in and no-one’s budging while the chaos continues. But it’s easily fixed.

Over the next few days come to me and tell me whether you want to be at the top of the chute, the bottom of the chute or one of the cleaners. If you don’t want to be any of them, I’ll pay you to go away and I’ll help you find alternative employment.’

The result?

The staff realised the new CEO was not going to play their game and a third of them left. The rest lived happily ever after to this day under a standard ten-day system. So did the CEO. So did the corporation.

Lesson learned

He could have yelled.
He could have pulled out a spreadsheet and explained all the holes in productivity.
He could have put up a PowerPoint presentation about productivity.
He could have shown a Simpson’s episode or something else irrelevant.

Instead, he told a story. He connected with humour, emotion, truth and trust.

If you haven’t been to my Home page in a while, I spell all of this out for you. You can use the pre-loaded emails to contact me about helping you get to the bottom of storytelling in corporate life or on the stage.

Alternatively, you could go straight to the Solutions page and choose from the options.

I don’t bite. Or you could skip all of that and phone me directly on +61 403 181 368

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