Archive for October, 2006

Special Program for United Way

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

The special program organized by the International Storytelling Center for United Way agencies last week was a hit! A total of nine speakers delivered presentations on topics that ranged from using stories for bridging cultural gaps to demonstrating how to pose questions that elicit rich, valuable information. One of my presentations featured storytelling techniques practiced by companies featured in Around the Corporate Campfire: How Great Leaders Use Stories to Inspire Results, and the other shared insights about the use of storytelling as a team building tool.

Highly respected fundraiser Jerry Panas, executive partner of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, kicked the day off with a beautifully crafted keynote address that essentially was (appropriately enough!) a series of well-told, instructive stories that illustrate expert fundraising techniques. One of his most powerful stories made the point that a simple, personal phone call to thank a donor–rather than the standard, impersonal mail-merged letter–can make a dramatic difference in an individual’s commitment, i.e., funding level.

Panas’ story underscored the fact that in today’s high-tech world, relationship-building is a more essential skill than ever; increasing the “high-touch” factor in your relationships will pay big dividends, both figuratively and literally. Another key point of discussion among the speakers during their “de-brief” session: People tend to think of communication as the practice of sending messages; very little attention is focused on the all-important skill of listening.

Who do you need to listen to more carefully?

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: The Importance of Values

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

At today’s chapter meeting of PRSA in Seattle, Monica Harrington of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation addressed the challenges that most foundations can only wish for: how to spend a more than $1 billion a year–and ensure that the funding produces the desired results. The #2 current challenge: planning an effective “ramp up” to begin spending at least $3 billion a year within the two years, a charge given by Warren Buffet when he announced early this year that he was entrusting most of his fortune to the Foundation.

Certainly, a foundation with $60 billion (approximately 50% from the Gates family, the rest from Bill’s friend Warren) has a unique opportunity to make a significant difference in the world. One of Monica’s points is at the heart of identifying your authentic corporate story. That is: the Foundation’s core values are the key to effectively carrying out the mission. What’s particularly impressive is that the Gates Foundation leaders are mindful of keeping the organization’s core values “top of mind” for everyone involved.

The values themselves are equally impressive, both for their brevity and their clarity:

1) All lives—no matter where they are being led—have equal value.

2) To whom much has been given, much is expected.

Both are Gates family values, not surprisingly, given that it is a family foundation. One interesting insight is that these values are so important to the family, Bill’s mother reminded Melinda of the second one on the day she and Bill were married. What a weighty comment to get from your new mother-in-law at your wedding celebration!

Are your organization’s core values important enough for you to remind employees at every opportunity? As a leader, do you make it a priority to ensure that every new employee knows what the values are? Do you use the core values to drive decisions on a daily basis–and do you expect others to do the same? And on a personal level, Are you in an organization whose values you share?

New Book on Organizational Storytelling

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

As a contributor to a new book on storytelling in organizations, I’m pleased to let you know that it’s been launched–and you can get a great deal on it if you act now. The name of the book is Wake Me When the Data Is Over: How Organizations Use Stories to Drive Results, published by Jossey-Bass.

Reflecting the explosive growth of business storytelling since Around the Corporate Campfire was published a little more than two years ago (when it was a challenge to find as many as 20 organizations using storytelling deliberately and systematically), the newly released book contains more than 70 examples of how organizations are using stories. Among the applications discussed are branding, strategy, customer service, dealing with difficult issues, organizational change, financial management, and leadership development–and all examples include tangible results achieved. Results include double-digit growth, double-digit reduction in turnover and significant increases in levels of employee engagement.

Until midnight on Monday, October 23, you can buy the book for less than $20–and receive over $500 worth of free items!

Here’s all you have to do:

I hope you take advantage of this opportunity to get a great buy, benefit from a selection of valuable bonuses, and learn how you can apply the power of storytelling in your organization.

Executive Retreat, National Storytelling Festival

Friday, October 13th, 2006

A recent trip was a perfect blend of business and pleasure. It started with a retreat in New York state that I led for the Community Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows program. The group is composed of dedicated, caring healthcare executives (and their advisors), who worked hard, enjoyed their time together–and were very eager to learn how to power up their communications with storytelling. An energetic group, they displayed a high level of creativity in the stories they developed and told together as well as in the projects they’ve designed as demonstrations of cross-agency teamwork.

They are the first of three classes under an executive development program aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of healthcare agencies, their interactions with their communities, and their work with one another. They also are the kind of people that make my work extremely rewarding, and I’m excited that the co-leader I had invited, Doug Lipman, and I have been invited to work with the classes in 2007 and 2008 as well. I had the pleasure of working with Doug earlier this year at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and I’ll be joining him and other organizational storytellers next week for a special program expressly for United Way agencies, to be held at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN, (http://www.storytellingcenter.net/)

On the way back to the Seattle area last week, I stopped in Jonesborough for the National Storytelling Festival. It was the first time I’d been able to attend the lively celebration of the art of storytelling in its various forms. The event is co-sponsored by the International Storytelling Center and National Storytelling Network (www.storynet.org), and it’s managed by the ISC.

What struck me about the professional performers is that there are so many ways to tell a good story. You don’t need to be dynamic, play an instrument, sing well, be an accomplished actor, or look glamorous. You do need to be authentic, construct a good tale, and be mindful of your audience. It also helps to inject a bit of gentle humor when appropriate.

The same is true for leaders who want to learn to use stories on a regular basis. I’m often asked, “Can storytelling be taught? I see others leaders who are naturals, but I’m not.” My response: “Yes, you are a ‘natural’. Telling stories is the way humans have traditionally communicated with one another. When someone asks you how a project is going, you usually don’t recite stats; instead, you relate a story about something that just happened, something that was surprising or disappointing or frustrating or….” The point is, we tell stories all the time. Corporate storytelling is about learning how to tell them deliberately.

To learn more, you may want to check my web site, www.corpstory.com.

Welcome to The Corporate Storyteller Blog!

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Welcome to The Corporate Storyteller’s updated blog, with a revised “look” and a refreshed “first” posting.

It’s exciting to be entering the wonderful world of blogging, where I’ll be posting the latest tips, news and views on the power of storytelling: how organizations are leveraging the tool, how executives are using stories to keep everyone moving in the same direction, how The Corporate Storyteller works with leaders to help them sharpen their communication tools, and observations from others on the dynamic world of business communications.

I welcome your comments and look forward to an abundance of thought-provoking discussions.