Culture of Communication Maximizes Employee Engagement

February 5th, 2015

According to a recent Gallup poll, over 50 percent of the current workforce is not fully engaged with the company; they simply show up and do what they need to do to keep their jobs–a steady income, in other words–but they do no more than absolutely necessary. What’s worse, nearly 20 percent of employees are “actively disengaged,” which presumably means they “push the envelope” on how little is enough to get by.

Margie Warrell, a leadership coach and author, discusses this woeful situation in an article on Forbes.com. Pointing out the urgent need for effective leadership communication, Warrell says that a leader’s level of interaction with employees makes a huge difference in how the workforce feel about their organization. As she rightly asserts, it’s crucial for a leader to regularly walk through the workplace and talk with employees. Transparent communication that divulges failures as well as successes is at the heart of creating a truly connected workplace, a culture of interdependence and mutual trust. And reminding people that their contributions are valuable inspires lasting commitment.

When people feel connected, they support one another fully and provide top-notch customer service. As Warrell says, “Relationships are the currency of the workplace, and so the stronger a leader’s connections, the better placed they will be to engage their employees…. Only when leaders demonstrate the courage they wish to see in those around them will they be able to unleash the human potential within their teams and organization, tap ingenuity,  raise the bar on innovation and optimize the value their organization contributes to all of it’s stakeholders.”

Stories are the best way for a leader to make those essential connections: stories that envision the future and make it palpable; stories that remind people of successes, both past and current;  stories about “lessons learned,” including those that describe mistakes the leader has made–and that have shaped the leader.

Over the past 21+ years, during which I’ve led hundreds of Corporate Storytelling workshops and delivered tens of keynotes, I’ve seen thousands of people light up when they experience the power of story. It’s the way humans derive meaning about life, from daily routines to remarkable accomplishments. Stories are the way we learn about one another, discover shared values and appreciate how much we can accomplish together.

Leaders who leverage the power of story with clear, consistent communication are sure to beat the competition. Their workforce will be fully engaged and committed to doing whatever it takes to realize the vision.

What People Do During Conference Calls

January 29th, 2015

The growing number of articles on the fast-disappearing art of listening has tapped into one of my pet peeves. I’m pretty certain most, if not all, of you have noticed that people increasingly are attempting to multi-task instead of focusing on what they’re purportedly doing. This includes so-called “communication” activities!

It isn’t just my imagination. According to a report in “Harvard Business Review” based on research by Intercall, 65% of the people on a conference call are doing other work; 63% are writing emails, and 55% are eating. A high percentage of others are going to the rest room, texting, checking social media and even doing their shopping (no kidding).

One of the most obvious signs that someone is hurriedly trying to “check things off the to-do list” is when the person answers an email containing several questions or concerns, but responds to only the first one. It’s clear that the person read only the first line, or the first paragraph, of the original email and feels a sense of having “handled” it by responding at all.

Another indicator of preoccupation is a conference call during which only one or two people of a number on the call say anything. Sometimes this may be because a high-level executive in an organization is on the call and others are too timid to express their opinions or observations. But in other cases, such as the strangest conference call I’ve ever experienced, several of the people on the line were joint decision-makers–and yet, only one of the five spoke at all during a 20-30 minute call. The rest of the conversation was between the primary client contact and me. It was very odd that the partners, for whom the call was arranged, said nothing. My primary contact explained later that “they’re busy executives who probably were doing other things” during the call. That begs the question, “What was the purpose, then?”

A sense of humor helps me to cope with puzzling situations such as that. So I was delighted to discover this well-written and artfully executed video. It’s an entertaining demonstration of what happens all too often when the leader of a project meeting or conference call attempts to get down to business. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did–but of course, not during a conference call!

Powerful Listening Wins Employee Engagement

January 22nd, 2015

Listening Ear

When you hear the word “communication,” what do you think of first: speaking, or listening? My hunch is that most of us think of speaking. In our hyper-busy, 24/7 culture, in fact, the “art” of listening–truly listening in a focused, intentional way–has been lost. It may sound like an oxymoron, but there is power in the ability to listen.

In fact, listening is an absolutely essential skill for leaders to develop. According to a recent Gallup poll, 63% of the global workforce is not engaged, and that translates into a waste of half a trillion dollars! And listening is one of the most powerful ways to engage employees, writes Greg McKeown in a wonderful article in “Harvard Business Review”. Unfortunately, leaders, like most of us, tend to focus on the messages they need to convey and forget that they need to listen to their employees.

By listening carefully to the people in their organizations on a regular basis, leaders will learn invaluable information:

  • what’s on employees’ and customers’ minds
  • what employees most want from their leaders
  • what employees most need from their leaders

What can be done to close the communication gap between leaders and their employees? McKeown suggests adapting a listening process used by the Quakers called the “Clearness Committee.” He describes in some detail how the process works and acknowledges that few companies would have time to invest in it.

But McKeown says the business world can adapt the process this way: “When one of your team members comes to you with a particular challenge, you can ask her questions to define what the real dilemma is, instead of jumping in with premature, well-intended solutions that actually miss the mark”….and you can increase the ratio of listening to speaking by asking questions.

He suggests spending at least 50% of any conversation actively listening to the other person speak. “The bottom line is this: if you want to engage your employees at a whole new level, if you want to become a person of greater influence, and if you want to discover a new kind of power — listen.”

Listening A Hot Topic

January 15th, 2015

Listening is a topic that’s been getting frequent attention in recent weeks. I suspect the reason is that fewer and fewer people listen closely to anyone or anything anymore. In a 24/7-connected world, more and more people are multitasking nearly all their waking hours. Or, more accurately, they’re attempting to multitask, which studies have shown isn’t, in fact, productive.

In my experience it’s been obvious that people on conference calls are often checking their phones and emails, reviewing papers on their desks, and answering questions from direct reports and co-workers instead of paying attention to the meeting discussion, not to mention participating in it! And some workshop attendees are on their laptops much of the time, purportedly taking notes but often working on their own projects.

Listening–truly listening, by giving someone your undivided attention–is an increasingly rare practice that many seem not to value highly. As a communication consultant whose entire career has focused on written and verbal interaction, this is very disconcerting. If we don’t listen carefully to one another, how we will ever reach learn waht we need to know? How we will ever reach an understanding of what we’re doing, where we’re going, what we need, what we want, etc.

So imagine how pleased I was to see today’s article in The Wall Street Journal that says focused listening is among the behaviors that conveys intelligence to others. Sue Shellenbarger reports that “a lot of people do things that make them look dumb” (such as using big words or looking very serious) when they’re trying to look smart. The people they’re trying to impress read these efforts as trying too hard, so the attempts to look smart actually have the opposite effect.

To look smart, the first thing a person needs to do is this: Put away the phone and look directly at the person you’re speaking to! According to Nora A. Murphy, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University in L.A. who’s conducted a number of studies on the subject, the other behaviors that convey intelligence are sitting up straight, speaking clearly in “a pleasant voice,” displaying self-confidence, and actually engaging in a conversation. Some of the ways to do that, says Suzanne Bates, chief executive of Bates Communications in Wellesley, Mass., are indicating you understand the person’s point, asking questions and being willing to hear another’s point of view.

Who knows? By actively listening, people may learn more than they ever imagined, all the while seeming more intelligent than ever. So what have you got to lose? Put down that phone, get away from email–and start listening!

5 Easy Ways to Use Storytelling in Corporate Communications

August 28th, 2014

After 21 years in the practice of Corporate Storytelling, I’m surprised to still get the question, “How can stories be used in business (or any other organization)?” I usually respond by pointing out that storytelling is a communication tool, then ask, “What do you commuicate about?”, or “What’s the main message you want people to get when you create a document or deliver a speech? What story can you incorporate to make your point come alive?”

Stories, after all, are the ideal way to create and sustain the culture of any type of group–business, nonprofit, government agency, family, friends, etc.  Stories touch hearts as well as minds, and the emotional connection they generate is one of the key reasons for the inherent power of a good story.

Here, then, are five ways you can begin using stories in your own communication efforts:

  1.  Convey corporate values: Leaders need to continually remind people of the organization’s core values. By telling stories about employees “caught doing something right,” they underscore core values, give recognition to deserving employees, and celebrate individuals’ successes.
  2. Build more effective teams: When a new team forms, have the members share stories of their experiences–in the organization, their careers or their personal lives. This builds connections and solidifies relationships, leading to better mutual support and, ultimately, improved customer service.
  3. Help people cope with change: As a company goes through major change, such as a merger, acquisition, or reorganization, morale and productivity usually take a nose-dive. People feel unprepared for the change, and that makes them uncomfortable and anxious, so they seek solace from one another instead of focusing on the job at hand. Managers who share their own “war stories” of successfully adapting to change will calm employees’ fears and increase workforce effectiveness and commitment.
  4. Increase sales: As natural storytellers, gifted salespeople often tell prospective customers about past customer successes to explain product or service benefits. Sales managers can help their people be more successful by sharing stories of exceptional customer service, rather than just raw sales figures, so salespeople can learn better “how it’s done”.
  5. Attract and retain employees: Organizations that accurately convey their values and culture attract and retain employees who not only fit in easily but also become loyal supporters who stay with the company.

How have you used stories in the past? Which of these five easy ways will you try next? Share your successes with us!

Stories Help to Fix Content Marketing Mistakes

July 24th, 2014

Are you making any of the four content marketing mistakes recently discussed by best-selling author and executive coach Christine Comaford? One of the four that I wholeheartedly agree with is neglecting to think of your core information as a corporate story (#3 below, conveying facts but missing emotion).

A recent blog posted by Comaford discusses the top four common mistakes people make when developing their content marketing. If you’re committing any of these missteps, you may not be getting the results you want or deserve.

Based on an interview with Amanda Milligan at Fractl (an online marketing agency specializing in engaging and emotional web content on the web), whom Comaford calls a “super brain,” here are the four big mistakes to avoid:

  1. Content that’s too branded
  2. Not getting your audience involved
  3. Conveying facts but missing emotion
  4. Overthinking content and missing context

And, I would add, a fifth mistake you definitely want to avoid: failing to illustrate the benefits of your products or services with relevant stories. Stories help your audience to experience the benefits, and that experience makes a stronger, longer-lasting connection than data can.

The full discussion on Comaford’s blog not only explains each of the four points she focused on, but also offers tips on how to fix or avoid these missteps. What was the most important tip you learned?

Truth Be Told, Your Story Must Reflect Your Culture

July 17th, 2014

True StoryDoes your corporate story reflect your company’s values–and your leaders’ behavior? Or are prospective employees told one story, only to see a totally different one enacted after they’ve been onboarded?

With the youngest generations in the workforce expecting to move up quickly, and moving on much more often than previous generations would even consider, companies need more than ever to ensure that the story of their culture is true. If they don’t, they’ll find themselves struggling to compete not only in recruiting the best and brightest, but also in retaining them. As a result, they’ll incur increasingly higher costs due to employee turnover and continuous recruitment.

In a recent worldwide survey, Randstad found that the trait people want most in an employer is honesty (78%). They want to know that the story they’re told is true! The survey of 11,000 prospective employees also found that 71% value reliability and 62% look for financial security.

How does your corporate culture stack up with those traits? Does your core story ring true?

If there’s a disconnect in your stated values and the behavior employees observe, it may be because not everyone is clear on how to enact the values. To ensure alignment of values, mission and purpose with goals, department by department and employee by employee, you need clear, consistent communication. You need a collection of stories that exemplify the desired behavior and show employees how to succeed in the organization.

That’s where Corporate Storytelling comes in. If you’d like to explore how the Storytelling system will help your organization  reflect its true values clearly and consistently, let’s talk!

 

 

6-year-olds Offer Lesson on Managing Change with Story

July 10th, 2014

Children can teach adults a lot of lessons about life–if the adults pay attention! One of my favorite lessons on managing change was demonstrated by 6-year-old twins whose father attended one of my Corporate Storytelling workshops for sales managers a few years ago. It’s a story I love to tell because it has all the basic elements of a memorable tale: it’s concise, it’s clear, it begins with a challenge to be overcome, describes how the hero overcomes the challenge, and concludes with a memorable lesson for leaders in any organization–business, nonprofit or family.

Paul Smith, a former Procter & Gamble executive, loves the story, too. He included it in his book, Lead with a Story, and asked me to share it when he interviewed me for a podcast that was broadcast yesterday. It’s a great example of how a meaningful business message can be conveyed in a charming and engaging story that everyone can relate to. We’ve all been children, after all, and we’ve all been faced with change. And sometimes, like one of the twins featured, we haven’t been sure how to handle a change that at first seemed overwhelming. Listen to the podcast here and let us know how you will apply this savvy lesson on change management from two 6-year-olds!

Transmedia A New Approach to Storytelling

July 3rd, 2014

“What’s transmedia storytelling?” you may ask, and I’m sure you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of it until recently, when I discovered Omar Kattan’s blog, “Brand Stories: New Age Brand Building.” As he explains, “Transmedia storytelling  is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using digital technology.”

But transmedia storytelling isn’t simply telling the same story via different media; it’s telling different elements of a story to various audiences, with details tailored to each audience’s preferences and interests. In a sense, the technique represents a full-fledged communications program with the key message tailored to each audience through multiple formats. And it’s a dynamic process. It invites–and depends on–audience interaction and feedback.

Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” ad campaign is one example, which Kattan discussed in an earlier post. It won this year’s award for a story-based ad campaign at the Cannes International Film Festival. “The Scarecrow” tells the tale of the hero going to work in a dark, depressing factory owned and operated by a scarecrow’s primary nemesis, a crow. After struggling with the conflict of values and the devaluation of his contribution by an unappreciative employer, the scarecrow overcomes the challenge of his demoralizing grind by transforming himself–and his entire life. Following his heart’s desire to work in the light, fresh outdoors, he quits his job and becomes a farmer. He grows sustainable crops (illustrated by a Chipotle chili and burrito basket), a product he’s proud to take to market.

After releasing the video, which became viral, Chipotle created a game app that educates its audience about industrialized farming. Then, to encourage support for sustainable crops, the app invites viewers to “help the Scarecrow rescue the City of Plenty from Crow Foods.” In essence, as Kattan says, the ad serves as “a mini trailer for the game app.”

It will be fun to see how other advertisers extend their brands by customizing the key messages to different audiences through a variety of technologies. How about you? How can your company convey its corporate culture and values, gain stakeholder support, and better reach its customers with transmedia storytelling?

 

Stories Called the Greatest Relationship Builders

May 22nd, 2014

Storytelling is one of the five new realities of sales discussed in a new book entitled, Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer, Sell Like a Superstar. The author, John Jantsch, discusses each “new reality” in depth, including storytelling, which he says is the new “nurturing.” The other four new realities of selling offer equally interesting perspectives on the new way of doing business. They are 1) Listening is the new prospecting, 2) Educating is the new presenting, 3) Insight is the new information sharing, and 4) Connecting is the new closing.

In a blog summarizing the author’s explanation of the five new realities, Dave Kerpen says Jantsch describes stories as the world’s greatest relationship builders. The author explains that salespeople need to make their organization’s core stories relevant to their customers and the world they live in. (Actually, relating to the customer has long been an essential element of effective advertising and selling.) When that relevance is presented as a well-told story, Jantsch posits, the story not only resonates with the customer, but the customer takes ownership of building a new story with the salesperson’s business as the lead character. The salesperson’s company actually becomes the hero of the story, meeting the customer’s problems head-on and solving them.

Many successful salespeople naturally use stories to help the prospective customer imagine what life would be like after they benefit from the product or service being offered. Most don’t. Instead, they focus on the features of their product or service and leave the prospective customer to figure out how it’s relevant to their lives.

In today’s fast-paced, constantly changing world, it’s essential to have an array of carefully crafted stories to draw on at any given moment. You need to be able to pull out and tell the best brief tale that “sings” to the individual you’re presenting to. The Corporate Storytelling® system will give you the knowledge, the skills and the tools you need to create and tell stories that resonate with your ideal customers; when you do that, they will see your company as the hero they’ve been looking for.