Tourism was Hong Kong’s only pillar industry with sustained growth last year; the 48 million tourists who came to Hong Kong spent HK$305 billion, up 16.5% on the year before.
A large part of what draws people to Hong Kong (even the 34 million mainlanders) is Hong Kong’s distinct heritage, whether that be architecture, food or the city’s indefinable “buzz”.
If you could bottle that essential Hong Kong-ness it would be economic elixir. It is clear that to continue this kind of growth Hong Kong needs to protect what makes it distinct and define what makes it special to enable the creation of successful heritage tourism “products”.
As with cities, so with companies. What does a company’s future have to do with the past? Quite a bit.
Leaders who have discovered their company’s usable past have a distinct advantage in terms of inspiring people to work productively towards a common goal; a well-articulated shared history creates a sense of identity that can be mobilized in a range of ways – from initiating a new management change strategy to integrating an entire new organization into the overall structure of the existing corporate culture.
A history with a clear narrative thread allows people to quickly put what might be fast-changing events around them into a context they can understand and adapt to.
An understanding of “who we are” translates into corporate legends of tragedy and triumph; a repository of stories that every employee can draw. After all, the history of human evolution is one of learning through stories; creation myths and cautionary tales are powerful motivators or provide instructive guidelines for action.
So, celebrating your company’s history is about more than having a party every five years (although parties are also good!). But how to do it?
Well, you can’t tell a story without good material and in terms of history that means raiding your archive for documents, images and artefacts. And if you don’t have an archive start making one because sooner or later you’re going to need it.
An archive doesn’t always have to be about museum-y objects, either. It could be started off with a programme of interviewing senior or departing managers and executives about their experiences.
This type of collective memory is all too easily lost and stories of how previous generations of employees overcame challenges can be as powerful a leadership tool as one of Grimm’s fairytales.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Chris White is Managing Director at Winkle-picker Ltd and Your Curator.