WestJet Enlivens A Great Corporate Story

January 8th, 2014

Even communication professionals are sometimes hard pressed to bring their corporawestjet-logote core stories to life. How much detail do I need to include–of the situation, the main character,or the outcome? How do I identify stories that will enliven our core message? And how do I know which story to tell at a given time to convey a particular message to a specific audience?

WestJet’s wonderful holiday video is a charming example of how a creative idea can not only enliven the corporate story but also engage viewers and touch the heart of every single person who watches it. It’s a fun wrap-up to the best memories of the Christmas season as we forge ahead into 2014.

Watch it and let me know how it made you feel and what you think about WestJet, whether or not you’ve ever flown their airline or ever will! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIEIvi2MuEk






Christmas Story Is One of Love and Giving

December 21st, 2013

In this beautiful season as we’re busy buying, wrapping and giving gifts; entertaining and being entertained; and in many cases, traveling long distances to be with family and friends across the country or aroudn the world, it’s easy to forget that the Christmas story is one of love and giving. It’s the story of our Creator giving the earth the ultimate gift–the gift of His Son in human form, who would be sacrificed for the benefit of humankind.

All of the activities of the holiday season are enjoyable, although sometimes exhausting! But the most satisfying is to give to strangers who need help. Some are homeless, some are jobless, some are ill…the list of misfortune could go on and on. This year my husband and I chose to buy gifts for a 3-year-old boy whose father is in prison, and we’re also launching a fundraising campaign for a friend of ours who’s facing a mountain of debt following his wife’s nearly four-year battle with ovarian cancer. She died this past June, and our friend has been consumed since then with all the legal and financial responsibilities as well as negotiations with healthcare providers in the effort to reduce the overwhelming amounts left even after insurance benefits have been paid. In addition, he now is the single parent of a bright, sweet and talented 10-ear-old daughter.

If you have a giving heart and a little money left in your wallet after buying your family’s Christmas gifts, will you please help us help our friend? Please donate now to the campaign on GiveForward for Matt Dunn. Then e-mail all your friends, “like” the page of Facebook, and tweet a request to all your followers to do the same.

The fund is entitled, “A Father Fends Off the Wolves” and can be found by clicking here http://tinyurl.com/noyrw72

Thank you–and Merry Christmas!

Two Steps to Creating a Culture of Learning

December 12th, 2013

Employees certainly need training on occasion, such as when they first join a company and need to become familiar with the organization’s processes; or when new systems are installed; or when they’re being groomed for a higher-level or leadership role. But why is training so often boring? Is it really necessary to be so dry as to put the audience to sleep?

Those are the questions by an article at blog.crowdbase.com–and of course, the answer is, No! Training doesn’t need to be–and shouldn’t be–boring! In fact, professional trainers know very well that getting the audience involved and giving them opportunities to apply key lessons right away are crucial elements of learning. What’s more, it’s been shown that when people are having a good time (yes, actually laughing and having fun!), they learn more easily and retain the knowledge.

The crowdbase blog offers two great tips for creating a culture of learning without breaking the bank: 1) Involve your employees by inviting them to share their own expertise and providing the tools, such as videos, for doing so; and 2) Nurture a storytelling culture in which people share their successes; in this way, co-workers learn from one another and create a database of tried and true techniques and professional practices.

Both ideas are excellent for several reasons: 1) People like to learn from people they know and admire; 2) Lessons from co-workers are automatically relevant and valuable because the parties involved work in the same culture with the same set of values; 3) The “teacher” is readily accessible for follow-up questions and discussions; 4) Employees want recognition more than monetary rewards, so being asked to share their knowledge and experiences is highly valued compensation for a job well done.

How can your organization create a culture of learning–or strengthen its current learning practices? If you aren’t yet sponsoring  employee-led classes or fostering storytelling circles, how soon can you begin?

Jack Welch on Leadership Communication and Performance

December 5th, 2013

Reacting to the recent announcement that Microsoft would stop force-ranking employees, a practice often referred to as “rank and yank,” former GE CEO Jack Welch delivered a strong case for another approach. Calling the “rank and yank” approach to performance evaluations”a media-invented, politicized, sledgehammer of a pejorative,” he said that it “perpetuates a myth about a powerfully effective real practice called (more appropriately) differentiation.”

Much has been written about “rank and yank” approach used by companies in recent years. It can, and often does, result in the firing of excellent employees who happen to be on an exceptionally high-performing team. Under the system, the bottom-ranked employees have to go, even those who are strong contributors. If it seems self-defeating, that’s because it is!

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Welch states a strong case for differentiation, which, he says, is “about building great teams and great companies through consistency, transparency and candor. It’s about aligning performance with the organization’s mission and values. It’s about making sure that all employees know where they stand. Differentiation is nuanced, humane, and occasionally complex, and it has been used successfully by companies for decades.”

Welch clearly articulates the need for leaders to clarify mission (where we’re going) and values (how we’re going to get there)–a goal achieved through storytelling, as emphasized in my Corporate Storytelling® workshops. Aligning performance with mission and values is crucial. To achieve that goal, Welch advocates for honest, supportive performance evaluations that let employees know where they stand, where they excel, and where they need to improve.

With this approach, everybody wins! And everybody wins when someone is let go. That’s because only those who aren’t performing well enough are let go–after they’re given help in identifying where their strengths would be a better fit and supporting their efforts to find another job.

Leadership communications based on consistency, transparency and candor are the keys to building and retaining high-performance teams and building strong, enduring companies. The most powerful tool for clear communication is storytelling.

Sell Ideas Like Malcolm Gladwell: Tell Stories

November 14th, 2013

The spectacular success of Malcolm Gladwell’s first three books clearly demonstrates that he’s very skilled at selling ideas. Sales of The Tipping Point surpassed 3 million copies and Blink, and Outliers each sold more than a million copies.

Wharton School of Busness professor Jonah Berger explains how Gladwell has been so effective in selling his ideas. In an online article Berger lists three techniques, one of which is storytelling.

Like other skilled storytellers, Gladwell paints vivid pictures for his audience by telling stories to illustrate his points. As Berger notes, stories surprise and engage the audience and also causes readers and listeners to vicariously experience what he’s describing. Stories also “serve a “larger purpose,” Berger says. A story is “proof by example,” conveying information that “comes along for the ride.”

To read the entire article, go to http://tinyurl.com/lj3dfp4

Then ask yourself, How can I learn from and emulate Gladwell? What stories can I tell that convey important information and persuade others to my point of view in an engaging way?

Tell Stories Worth Telling, Win Customers and Employees

November 7th, 2013

“Fast Company” recently posted an excellent article on 10 ways that companies can bring core values to life, which emphasized that in today’s information-loaded environment, having a purpose that benefits your community is essential. The article reports that 87% of global consumers believe businesses “should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues,” and a study on meaningful brands found that “73% of existing brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care.”

Three of the 10 ways to bring core values to life align with three main points in my Corporate Storytelling® system. They are

  1. Make customers the celebrity of your brand story, explaining the benefits of your products/services
  2. CEOs must lead by example, enacting the values on a regular basis so that employees understand the desiredbehavior that will be rewarded
  3. Inspire employees to become brand advocates

Each of these can be achieved by clearly articulating a relevant story that engages your employees, customers, and community and galvanzies support for your mission. Stories are powerful communication tools for many reasons; chief among them are that stories touch people emotionally, act as glue that sticks your brand in their minds, and motivate them to promote your business.

The lesson here is that you have to work harder to cut through the information clutter, and the most effective way to do that is to tell a story worth telling–one that clearly communicates values your customers, employees and community share.

To ensure that your company’s brands aren’t among that startlingly high 73% that the marketplace doesn’t care about, read the “Fast Company” article and assess how well you’re doing on all 10 measures recommended. http://tinyurl.com/nwvewr5


Howard Schultz Tells Starbucks Story

October 31st, 2013

As evidences by a recent post, I’m becoming a very big fan of Howard Schultz’s leadership of Starbucks. He not only clearly communicates his personal, and his company’s, core values, but he also demonstrates his commitment to those values by enacting them.

In a talk at the University of Denver’s School of Business, Schultz tells the story of how Starbucks has survived during the economic downturn, turned around a precipitous decline in business during those years, and also rekindled the fire for the business that for many reasons had nearly burned out among many of the company’s employees (known as partners). His return to the position of CEO after almost eight years as Chairman sparked a renaissance based on tough decisions and an astounding commitment to retraining employees and re-energizing his own–and the company’s–social consciousness.

This story also is told in his books, Pour Your Heart into It and Onward! Both are recommended reading.

Watch Schultz’ talk at the University of Denver: http://tinyurl.com/mzeatkj

Storytelling Is Essential Business Skill

October 10th, 2013

Data Never SleepsAccording to a report in USA Today, every day each of us is bombarded with anywhere from 3,000-5,000 messages. These include all the bits and pieces of information that you see or hear throughout the day: advertising jingles; comments on radio shows; broadcast news; news and professional publications; reports and memos on your desk; emails; telephone conversations; books you’re reading; signs on the office walls; billboards, etc. And that report was published in 2006! The deluge of information has continued to snowball since then.

Another startling report I saw a few years ago was this: one Sunday edition of The New York Times contains as much information as the average 19th Century citizen accessed over an entire lifetime! And another: a typical manager reads one million words every week–the equivalent to one-and-a-half full-length novels every day. And one more (if you’re brain isn’t already going numb): Worldwide, knowledge doubles every 72 hours!

Why is The Corporate Storyteller relating all these numbers? Primarily there are two reasons. First, it’s necessary to be aware of a problem before you can deal with it. Second, the ability to deal with this incredible deluge of information requires that you master the skill of storytelling. According to many thought leaders, storytelling is the #1 business skill necessary for success in today’s world. It’s the most effective way to be heard in the midst of constant “noise” in a global culture of 24/7 communication.

So how are your storytelling skills? Are you prepared to tell the right story at the right time to a particular audience? Are you certain that you can get your message across in a way that will be relevant and memorable?

Infographic courtesy of Domo.com

CFO Communication Skills a Major Asset for Twitter IPO

October 3rd, 2013

According to a report from Bloomberg News, Twitter’s CFO has the ability to communicate clearly, even when discussing complicated concepts–and that talent is expected to be a valuable asset as Twitter seeks investors for its upcoming IPO. Mike Gupta, who joined the company last year, is known for his skill in explaining complex systems and business models in a simple way. Because of his communication skills and his negotiation credentials, he likely will accompany Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, on the “road show” to drum up interest for the new offering.

Twitter is anticipating sales of $1 billion next year and hoping to sustain solid long-term growth. But it’s difficult for many potential investors to understand how the company earns revenues and how it can continue to grow sales. Formerly head of finance for Yahoo, Gupta  played a key role in Yahoo’s negotiations with Microsoft that led to a partnership for web-base search. He also helped Yahoo secure a valuable investment in China-based Alibaba.

Beginning his career in investment banking, Gupta moved into technology as an executive with Zynga, where he was involved in that company’s IPO. As Zynga’s former operating chief observes, “He was instrumental during our earnings calls and during our road show. He would do a great job of playing the other side and thinking through all the intricacies.”

Starbucks Story Is about Passion and Authenticity

September 25th, 2013

Starbucks is proof positive that passion and authenticity can drive a company to huge success. Founded in Seattle in 1971 by two guys who sold whole bean and ground coffee as well as tea and spices in a retail store in Pike Place Market, Starbucks originally set out to educate consumers about dark-roasted coffee and the wide variety of beans and teas in the world. The founders were comfortable being small and selling only bagged products for customers to brew at home. The company grew by leaps and bounds only after Howard Schultz, now chairman, president and CEO, got involved.

Hired in 1982 to head up marketing, Schultz became CEO in 1987 after leaving the company for a while to start his own business. When he returned to take the top post, Schultz convinced private investors that his vision was achievable. Aiming for a national chain of European-style warm, inviting neighborhood cafes, he and his management team grew the business from a company with 6 stores to a national chain of 1,300 stores and 25,000 employees–within 10 years! Now a global company of more than 20,000 stores and 151,000 partners in 62 countries, Starbucks is still an organization run on passion.

Schultz had been bitten by “the bug” of high quality coffee and the classic Italian cafe culture in 1981 when he first sipped a cappuccino at a neighborhood coffee bar in Italy. He’ll never forget that pivotal moment–and he still loves sharing that experience with the world. He was certain Americans would enjoy the experience just as much as he did, and in some communities Starbucks is, in fact, the “Third Place” gathering spot that Schultz envisioned. And his concept caught on to a far greater degree than he originally imagined.

As he says in his first book, Pour Your Heart into It, How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, “People connect with Starbucks because they relate to what we stand for. It’s more than great coffee. It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community…. Starbucks strikes an emotional chord with people. Some drive out of their way to get their morning coffee from our stores.”

Based on an authenticity that permeates the culture, Schultz’s leadership emanates from his contagious passion for coffee. The mission “to inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time” inspires store managers, executives and partners at all levels. Management decisions, as well as the one-on-one interactions between baristas and customers, are evidence of their commitment.

Starbucks has proven, as Schultz says, that “a company can grow big without losing the passion and personality that built it, but only if it’s driven not by profits but by values and by people. If you pour your heart into your work, or into any worthy enterprise, you can achieve dreams others may think impossible.”

How about your organization? Is the leader’s passion evident? Is the vision clear? And what about you? What dreams do you have for your own future that passion and authenticity will help you achieve?