senior woman and middle aged daughterStories Connect Us To A Purpose

Sunrise Senior Living is a powerful example of an organization that has achieved great success through their wise use of personal business stories. For those of you who don’t know Sunrise, they are the largest company in the US in the assisted living space. The company was started in 1981 by Paul and Terry Klaassen and today they’ve grown to over 425 communities serving over 50,000 people in four countries.

Sunrise was founded to create senior living that champions quality of life. What’s fascinating about this company is that they use stories rather than policies and procedures to achieve their goals. Storytelling is used as a principal tool to communicate with employees, guests and all of their other stakeholders. In fact, stories are used to communicate effectively by all the members of the Sunrise team with both internal and external stakeholders every day.

As Annette Simmons notes in her book, The Story Factor, Sunrise Senior Living is one of the best examples of using business stories to power and guide a business. “They knew that rules and procedures would never stimulate imaginative new expressions of values such as “preserving dignity” and “fostering independence” in the same way stories could” Ms. Simmons says.

“Their founder’s story created an initial public offering like no other, an employee orientation that transcends a handbook, and quarterly DVDs that tell stories of principles and values in action for thousands of caregivers, residents, and family members.”

What’s fascinating and enlightening about the Sunrise approach to business is that the Klaassens intuitively knew from the beginning that focusing on values as the foundation for their firm and using stories as the vehicle to convey those values would allow them to be more responsive to their company’s needs.

So, instead of creating a procedures manual for their directors to use, they created a document they call their Principles of Service that guides their employees actions. They realized that instead of rules, stories that have their Principles of Service embedded within would guide their team members in the right direction without telling them what to do. You can find their Principles of Service here.

As Ms. Simmons notes in her book, Sunrise has a heritage of dedication to service and she shares this brief story. “One morning during the early days of Sunrise, Paul was staying in a Marriott hotel visiting a Sunrise residence. On the desk in his room was a little sign that said, ‘The answer is YES… now what is the question?’ Paul “stole” the sign and took it with him to the residence. He told the staff there that from now on, “This is how I want us to respond to customers: The answer is YES…now what is the question?” Wise words from a man who leads with stories.