Posts Tagged ‘corporate storytelling’

Corporate Story Collections Essential as Boomers Retire

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Any organization that hasn’t yet started to systematically collect its “sacred bundle” of stories is going to lose a priceless treasure of knowledge when the last of the Baby Boom generation retires in the next 20 years or so. Born between 1946 and 1964, Boomers started exiting the workplace in the late ’90s and those who continue working until age 70 will be gone by 2034.

As Daniel Burrus wrote in his blog Monday, the retirement of Boomers is a Burrus Hard Trend™ — one that’s based on “measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects.” His proprietary Hard Trend system is used by many top companies, such as Deloitte, Lockheed Martin and IBM, to forecast future needs and develop strategic plans. Soft Trends, he says, are projections that “might happen: a future maybe. Soft Trends can be changed, which means they provide a powerful vehicle to influence the future and can be capitalized on.”

So the fact that Boomers are retiring is a Hard Trend, the best-selling author, innovation expert and global futurist says. A reasonable projection based on that fact “would be which companies will implement a system to collect knowledge from them” and “implement a knowledge-sharing network” before they go. Systematically collecting and cataloguing stories is an effective way to capture and manage knowledge, as some consulting firms have learned and many corporations are catching on.

The Environmental Protection Agency is first organization I’m aware of that began a story collection when it realized it was about to lose a vast amount of valuable knowledge due to retirements. The people who began leaving 30 years following the founding of the agency carried with them not only nuggets of the developing culture, but the details of the early years. Those details include how regulations were established, why they were written as they were, and the intitial dreams as well as the stated long-term goals. To capture that knowledge, the EPA began shooting a series of video interviews with legacy employees so that following generations could learn from them “first-hand,” in a sense, by “sitting in” on the interviews.

What is your organization doing to preserve the knowledge stored in the minds of the “elders”? Their experiences encapsulate invaluable information about the history of the company; the major challenges and how they were overcome; the main characters; and tales about everyday experiences that enliven the culture through the years.

If you haven’t yet begun to capture the stories, get started before it’s too late! If you need help, a Corporate Storytelling® workshop will give the foundation for identifying, developing and telling your core stories. Follow-on writing and coaching services will help you establish a solid base collection and keep the program on track.

Capture your stories before all that valuable knowledge walks out the door! And tell them often. Stories live only when they’re told.

Jack Welch on Leadership Communication and Performance

Thursday, 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.

Tell Stories Worth Telling, Win Customers and Employees

Thursday, 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.


The Mystery of Storytelling Revealed

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
Every organization needs a corporate story--and needs to breathe life into it by telling it continuously.

Every organization needs a corporate story–and needs to breathe life into it by telling it continuously.

How can stories be used in organizations? Even though the practice of storytelling has virtually exploded all around the globe in recent years, many people are still puzzled about how to use stories in their communications. After 20 years of leading Corporate Storytelling® workshops, I’m surprised that the practice is still mysterious to so many people.

There is any number of ways that businesses, NGOs and governmental agencies–not to mention people in everyday life–can leverage the power of story. Storytelling is, after all, a communication tool, and communication is central to human interactions. When you need to communicate, there’s often a way to leverage the power of story. Use a story

  • to attract investors, donors and employees
  • to persuade people to a point of view
  • to galvanize support among stakeholders
  • to inspire
  • to inform
  • to build a cohesive team
  • to nurture a culture
  • to teach a lesson
  • to heal
  • to enliven historic events and people
  • to explain the rationale behind a decision
  • to breathe life into a vision
  • keep people focused on a mission
  •  to demonstrate how a product or service improves or even saves lives
  • to explain how a product or services makes everyday activities easier
  • to underscore core values

And, of course, there’s at least one more use for stories that’s familiar to everyone: entertainment. We regularly share amusing stories with friends, family, co-workers and people we encounter in all areas of daily life. Leaders who understand the power of humor recognize that entertainment plays an important role in organizations. They know when to include a lighthearted tale to relieve tension in difficult times and how to incorporate fun stories when it’s time to celebrate.

Our days are filled with opportunities for storytelling. So what are you waiting for? Tell your stories!


Siemens A Great Example of Corporate Storytelling

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

SiemensWhen you visit Siemens’ website, a video story dominates the landing page. It’s about a young man in India whose mission is to teach martial arts to other youngsters growing up in poverty–similar circumstances to his own– as a means of helping them see their own potential.

At first it seems odd to start the discussion of a tech company by telling how a young man in India developed martial arts skills. And then, at the end of the 3+ minute video, it becomes clear that the video makes a huge impact in a memorable way by showing how a company enacts its values by improving individual lives. A simple written message appears onscreen, explaining that

  1. 40% of the children in India live in poverty
  2. St. Catherine’s Home is a charity that focuses on holistic development to help children acquire the knowledge and skills needed to create better lives
  3. The martial arts program described in the video is a part of St. Catherine’s mission
  4. As part of its Corporate Citizenship activities, Siemens funds the martial arts training course, known as “Happy Feet”

In addition to featuring a video at the top of the page, Siemens invites web visitors to click a link to other stories about Siemens’ efforts to improve lives.

How can your company use stories in an innovative way to convey your values?

Whole Foods CEO Advocates Return to Values and Purpose

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Identifying, crafting and telling values-based stories are the core of my Corporate Storytelling system, so I was excited to read a story recently in The Seattle Times about the importance of values and virtues to Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey. In a book he wrote with Raj Sisodia, marketing professor of Bentley University, Mackey makes the case that the power of a free market depends on creating value and strengthening society by practicing “higher virtues”.

“If everybody is always calculating what’s to their advantage, and no one comes with generosity, or kindness, or compassion, or forgiveness–higher virtues–your society starts to break down,” Mackey says. “I actually think that’s what’s happening in America right now.” He went on to explain that a sense of Judeo-Christian values served as the foundation of American enterprise for most of its history, and added that the resulting empathy and caring for others softened the forces of self-interest. But as America has become increasingly secular, the ethics that drove business have been lost, and as a result, trust in institutions, both public and private, has disappeared.

As a society, we have to find our purpose again, Mackey believes, and likewise, “business needs to rediscover its purpose….”

In their book, Conscious Capitalism, the Whole Foods leader and his co-author argue that business must integrate the needs of all its stakeholders. Rather than seeing the world through a win/lose perspective, conscious business leaders need to be creative enough to “deliver multiple kinds of value simultaneously.” As you’d expect, that’s the guiding principle of Whole Foods. For example, Mackey explains, he can quickly consider every major stakeholder’s needs and interests and determine whether Whole Foods is delivering value for each group. “If (as the result of a decision we’re considering) somebody is losing, then really we haven’t been creative enough, and probably it’s not a good decision.” As a business rediscovers a higher sense of purpose–one focused on creating value for employees, suppliers, investors and customers–it can create value for all stakeholders, he says.



Jimmy Buffett Story Is Having Fun

Friday, January 27th, 2012

I just discovered an interesting article on Jimmy Buffett, who by any measure is a skillful and wildly successful storyteller. Many songwriters are great storytellers, of course, but few have careers as enduring as Buffett’s.

Written by Karen Dietz, a colleague of mine based in San Diego, the article is based on an interview she conducted “years ago” when working for a national magazine. Describing Buffett’s diverse talents as visionary, businessman and airplane pilot, she elaborates on his top criteria for developing good stories:

  1. Spend most of your time listening to others
  2. Take time to develop interesting characters
  3. Remember that the objective is to paint pictures with your words
  4. Have fun!

In summary, Dietz says corporate storytelling can be challenging, but it’s easier if you follow Buffett’s advice. She says “the last piece of advice that Jimmy gave me…(was, ‘No matter what you do, just don’t forget to have fun with it. If you aren’t having fun, it makes for really long, boring days. And no one needs that.’ ”

The entire article is at

Lessons from Steve Jobs on Succession

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

A phenomenal visionary and innovator, Steve Jobs also demonstrated a lot of skill as a leader. One case in point is the thoughtful way he handled succession planning, an area many CEOs avoid, to their company’s disadvantage.

Information Week writer Robert Strohmeyer reported earlier this year that author Carmine Gallo, who followed Jobs’ career closely over the years and wrote two well-received books about him, identified the five key lessons to be learned Jobs’ succession planning:

  1. Focus on the customer, client, and user experience, above everything else
  2. Ensure that the culture of the company is held up as a higher value than a particular person’s leadership so that everyone realizes the company can succeed without certain individuals
  3. Control the core message and exemplify it (walk your talk)
  4. Be proactive about turning over the reins gradually so that people become accustomed to the new CEO before it’s time to leave
  5. Select your successor by evaluating the person’s ability to do the job rather than assessing whether the personality is similar to yours

What do you think is most important to remember when preparing to step down from a leadership role? Please offer your thoughts, ideally based on your experience.

Thousands of executives, top-flight sales leaders and savvy marketers have learned—with Evelyn Clark’s help—how to identify, create and deliver messages that stick in audiences’ minds. An author, workshop/retreat leader and keynoter, she is a recognized expert and pioneer in organizational storytelling. Learn about her Corporate Storytelling® system and services, or buy her book, at