Archive for May, 2011

How to Use Stories to Nurture the Culture

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

In his Harvard Business Review blog, Peter Bergman shares an example of a CEO who listens to employee input. He tells of Bill Black, a former CEO of Maritime Life, who asked all the company’s employees to help create a values statement. Then he asked a team of employees to write a newspaper containing stories that illustrated how the values were enacted in various departments.

So, in other words, one makr of an effective leader is the commitment to involving everyone–by asking, listening, and giving meaningful assignments that keep the desired culture alive and well. And if it becomes clear that the culture is veering off course, the leader steers it back in the right direction. The best way to do that is to change the stories that are told.

A related use of stories is to help with integrating the cultures of different companies following a merger. I worked with one major organization that had just bought two smaller companies. I guided the sales team through the process of crafting a new corporate story based on the shared values of the three organizations. The outcome was that the salespeople left with a solid story to tell their current customers, assuring them that the “new” company would continue to deliver the outstanding service they were accustomed to.

How about you? What stories is your organization telling that make the core values crystal clear?

To Change the Culture, Change the Stories

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

“If you want to change the culture, you have to change the stories,” says Peter Bregman in a recent blog post for Harvard Business Review. As Bregman points out, corporate culture reflects the values of the people running an organization, and the culture has a significant impact on talent management and corporate success.

He asserts that when the CEO values input from all levels, employees are encouraged to strive for the company’s success. Honest, direct employee input requires the CEO to face the truth contained in the stories employees tell–and to be willing to do something about them. Is that happening in the company where you work? How is that culture different from others you’re familiar with?

A Brilliant Story of Nordstrom’s Legendary Service

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

At Nordstrom’s recent annual meeting, President Blake Nordstorm shared a new, shall we say shining, example of Nordstrom’s legendary service. As reported in The Seattle Times, a woman in North Carolina was trying on clothes in a Nordstrom store when she noticed that the diamond had fallen out of her wedding ring. A store security staffer noticed the woman crawling under the racks on the sales floor, asked what had happened and then started helping her search.

When they didn’t find the stone, he requested help from two building-services workers. They decided to check the store’s vacuum cleaner bags and–voila!–there was the sparkling diamond. Noting that he’s “never been through a vacuum-cleaner bag, President of Stores Erik Nordstrom said, “It’s kind of disgusting.” As he introduced the three employees who helped to find the customer’s diamond, he told shareholders, “This (story) raises the bar.”

It was a fitting tale at a meeting that focused on Nordstrom’s efforts to cater to customers, both in the store and online. How does your company emphasize its core values?

New Managers Often Lack Necessary Skills

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirms what many have observed: People promoted to management positions are selected because they were great workers, but managing other people requires a different skill set that they may or may not have.  This finding underscores a great need for leadership training that many organizations overlook or don’t consider to be the high priority that it should be.

Supervisory communications and conflict resolution are the top skills that a leader needs but a new manager may not have. What  memorable experiences have you had working with managers who exhibit signs of this gap in crucial skills?

Trust in Executives Key to Employee Engagement

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

A high degree of employee engagement requires a high level of trust in the organization’s executives more than workers’ own managers–and yet, an extensive survey of employees across North America revealed that only 52 percent trusted their executive team while 72 percent trusted their immediate bosses.

Christopher Rice, CEO of BlessingWhite, the company conducting the survey, points out that if people “don’t trust their boss, or their boss’ boss, they’ll begin to question how they fit in with the company and have less pride in the organization overall.”  One of the remedies, Rice says, is to strengthen communication skills among HR professionals as well as executives so that they can share the responsibility of conveying genuine “concern for employee well-being in order to strengthen employee motivation,” he says.

Sharing one’s own career stories–particularly focused on challenges the executive has faced,  and how those were overcome–is one way to communicate genuine concern and understanding of employees’ situations.  Anyone have examples of how your organization’s executives have done this effectively? We’d love to hear them!

Visual Storytelling Comes on Strong

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

When you hear the word “storytelling,” what comes to mind first? Do you envision someone standing at a mic and verbally spinning a yarn to inform or entertain? Do you recall a favorite movie or TV show? Or do images pop up of recent videos you’ve seen, either youtube clips or videos you’ve shot yourself with a camera or phone?

Most of us probably think first of one of those standard visual formats, but a new form of visual storytelling is taking the world by storm: infographics. The exciting thing is that several tools for creating infographics are now available to those who are graphically and artistically challenged. (That would include me!)

I’ve been using wordle.com for awhile, and it’s a fun way to emphasize key points. A new tool that’s currently in beta promises to be far more robust. It’s visual.ly, and you can sign up to be notified on its progress at  http://visual.ly/o2mh7