Posts Tagged ‘stories’

Exceptional Leaders Enliven Vision through Infectiousness

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

In a recent post (March 26), I wrote about effective communication as one of the 12 behaviors of exceptional leaders  identified by Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart & co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Today’s topic is another of the 12: infectiousness.

Infectiousness isn’t a trait that usually is cited as a key leadership skill, but I suspect it’s because that trait is often described differently. It could fall under the oft-mentioned “charisma,” “charm” or “engaging personality,” or a number of other descriptors. Infectiousness also could be encompassed in other characteristics, particularly passion, which is another of the 12 behaviors on Bradberry’s list. But I like the fact that he calls out infectiousness to stand on its own because unless the leader’s passion is expressed in a way that employees “catch the bug,” it won’t have a lasting effect.

As Bradberry explains, “Great leaders know that having a clear vision isn’t enough. You have to make that vision come alive so that your followers can see it just as clearly as you do. Great leaders do that by telling stories and painting verbal pictures so that everyone can understand not just where they’re going, but what it will look and feel like when they get there. This inspires others to internalize the vision and make it their own.”

untitledStarbucks’ Howard Schultz is a great example of infectiousness. First, he looks for employees who share his customer-centered values,  including a desire to contribute to their community. Building on his belief that “people want to be part of something larger than themselves,” new employees, or “partners,” as Starbucks calls them, undergo 24 hours of classroom training. The company also pays for additional workshops and classes that partners choose to take.

New senior leaders are put through a four-month “immersion in the Starbucks culture” to ensure that everyone understands the coffee business from start to finish. And Schultz emphasizes the values that comprise the culture by sharing his “unbridled enthusiasm and love” for the company at regularly-held district meetings.

Quoting the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Employee Engagement, Culture, Leadership Top Issues in 2015

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

2015 Predictions by Bersin In his “Predictions for 2015” report for Deloitte Consulting LLC, Josh Bersin underscores the need for organizations to re-direct their focus on employee engagement, corporate culture and leadership. Why? Many employees are “overwhelmed” and employee engagement and retention is at an all-time low.

“While many people are still looking for work, more and more people are getting fed up with the 24/7 work environment…so they go to social websites like LinkedIn or Glassdoor.com”– and they get job offers. The companies that win the competition for the best and brightest employees are those that are “focused on mission, culture, and leadership,” Bersin says.  “They understand that people are not ‘talent'”; rather, the most desirable companies to work understand that employees are fully-developed people who have “their own personal needs and aspirations.”

I would add that the following leadership communication practices are highly effective tools for accomplishing Bersin’s recommended goals:

  1. Establishing personal connections with employees through regular direct contact
  2. Communicating clearly and consistently about mission, values and goals, and
  3. Demonstrating vulnerability by sharing stories from the leader’s own experiences to impart important lessons learned

A writer on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management, he bases these views on a survey by Glassdoor.com. It reveals clear differences between companies where employees are highly engaged and those where employees are actively disengaged.

Bersin says that the transformation he sees in today’s workforce is the most dramatic he’s seen in years. He says the main drivers for business success are “Engagement, Experience, and Environment… because ultimately employee engagement is all a business has.” He calls on leaders to direct their energies to building “highly engaged teams” along with achieving the desired business results, and his report includes guidelines on how to make this critical shift.

Great Corporate Storytelling at Microsoft

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Microsoft-Stories-1-600x370

 When I saw the Google news alert about an article on Microsoft’s great use of brand storytelling, I was immediately intrigued. As a long-time contract writer for Microsoft, I helped create the company’s intial collection of corporate stories, but that’s been a few years ago and I haven’t checked their website for months to see how the storytelling efforts have grown. Not only that, but I helped a colleague with a book on technology branding more than 20 years ago–before most consumers were familiar with technology products by brand.

When I checked out Arik Hanson’s blog discussion of the Microsoft Stories site, I was captivated even further by the screen shot included in the post (shown). As Arik points out, you’d expect to see the program manager being featured to be show in the office working on the development of great new software. But instead you see a dominant photo of the employee in a barrel room sipping wine. That drew me in even further because my husband and I have been part of a wine-making group for the past 11 years–and we live in Washington near the largest collection of tasting rooms in the state!

So you’ll understand why I agree with Arik that it’s a great example of corporate storytelling. Employees are brand evangelists, and they’re also interesting people whose non-work activities are at least as fascinating as their professional involvement. By helping co-workers and customers get to know the whole person, Microsoft is creating deeper, more lasting connections than work-related topics alone ever would.

Key point: When people develop deeper connections, they become more committed to one another’s success. Stories that help people get to know one another more fully result in a win for everyone involved.

How about you? How well are you telling corporate stories that do that?

How Siemens Drives Results with Storytelling

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

“Storytelling is a really powerful add on that helps you get a message across in a way that resonates and connects to people. It should be something that all companies…use,” Keith Ritchie, storyteller at Siemens, told Marketing magazine.

Citing a range of technology developments and products for a number of uses–from energy, healthcare, and industry to city infrastructure, Ritchies says that Siemens’ content is “extremely rich…. It’s a matter of picking out what the great stories are and which ones the customers will allow you to work with them on. Some customers don’t like to share what the technology has actually done for them.  But there is no shortage of great stories here.”

Siemens uses corporate storytelling internally as well, identifying employees who relate life experiences that apply to workplace situations, such as safety concerns. And business stories, such as those about customers whose operations were greatly improved by Siemens products, Ritchie points out, can be made relevant to customers in totally different businesses from the one featured. It’s all about highlilghting the company’s ability to develop solutions.

Measuring the effects of stories can be tough, but Ritchie says it’s often as simple as watching how people react. When people clearly are touched by a moving story and start talking about it, you know it’s had an impact. And when you hear about business increasing after customers hear solutions-based stories, it’s clear that the stories are having the intended results.

Well-told stories are “conversation starters,” Ritchie says. “I think for us, this sort of thinking is a bit of a game changer.”

How about you? Are you ready for a game-changer? If you want to explore how stories will drive results for your organization, let’s talk!

Storytelling and Listening for A Collaborative Culture

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Do you have a collaborative culture? One where people are open to others’ ideas? Where individuals consider how their colleagues’ ideas can work, rather than instantly pointing out why they won’t work? A culture where people are comfortable expressing even “far out” thoughts,  knowing that it’s safe because everyone realizes that sometimes the farthest out ideas are the ones that spark absolutely brilliant new products or services?

If you don’t have a collaborative culture but want to build one, storytelling is a tool you can’t do without. By sharing stories with one another–where you came from, why you believe what you believe, how you learned valuable lessons about work and life–you get to know one another, discover shared values and interests–and Speakingbuild strong connections. The bonds developed over time through workplace story swaps lead to a strong sense of “being in this together” and motivate people to listen carefully to one another. They will begin to treat treat one another with more respect and will develop a ready willingness to collaborate and help one other. I’ve seen this happen time and again when leading work teams through my Corporate Storytelling® system.

Listening to others’ stories is a crucial component of the process. As Nelson Farris, Nike’s official storyteller for many years, says the company’s success “is based on collaboration, and the only way you’re going to collaborate is to talk to each other. That means you have to talk and then listen.

“Listening is huge. If we don’t listen, then the collaboration begins to disintegrate.”

Here are a few steps to get started with storytelling to build a collaborative culture:

  • Tell a well-developed organizational story, or a personal “lesson learned” story that conveys your values, your mission and your specific goals
  • Tell this story–and others you develop–repeatedly and systematically
  • Train others in your organization on how to tell stories
  • Underscore to your employees and other stakeholders the importance of telling values-based stories
  • Incorporate storytelling in regularly held meetings

Personal Values Trump B2B Brands

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

In Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, he describes his research that led to this conclusion: despite their protestations to the contrary, human beings make decisions based on emtion, then justify those decisions by developing a rationale after the fact. This process held true in a wide range of case studies that Ariely conducted involving insignificant decisions, such as choosing a beer or a dinner entree when out with friends, to more significant choices, such as buying a new car or selecting from an offering of business tools.

His findings are confirmed in a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board in partnership with Google. Based on a survey of more than 3,000 B2B buyers, as well as 70 marketers and 15 academics, thought leaders and consultants in different industries, the research revealed that the power of brands’ “unique selling propositions” has greatly dimished. Instead, the ability to connect with customers through personal values makes all the difference in a company’s ability to grow and prosper.

In the summary statement reporting the results of the survey, the CEB and Google point out that 1) only 14% of B2B buyers see a valuable difference between brands’ business value”, and 2) personal value will provide 2x as much impact as business value will on a B2B purchase. In other words, connecting on a personal level enables a company to cut through the increasingly cluttered marketplace. To learn more of the data and the compelling reasons to emphasize emotion rather than features and benefits in your marketing, download the complete survey report, “From Promotion to Emotion.”

The bottom line is, as more and more businesses realize the necessity to connect emotionally with their customers, the use of values-based stories in marketing and sales will grow even more dramatically than it has in the past 10 years. As I’ve been teaching Corporate Storytelling clients for the past 21 years, stories are far more powerful than most people–and especially business leaders–realize. Among the many reasons are that they help us make sense of the world, they illuminate values, and they help people remember essential information, which sometimes means the difference between destruction and survival. Stories have always fulfilled a multitude of purposes. They do so by touching people’s hearts.

Stories Help to Fix Content Marketing Mistakes

Thursday, 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?

Stories Called the Greatest Relationship Builders

Thursday, 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.

Brand As Verb A Brilliant Presentation

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Of all the articles and blogs written about the revolutionary changes in the world of branding,BrandAsVerb a  SlideShare presentation titled “Brand As Verb” stands out as brilliant. It clearly explains what organizations need to do to keep their brands relevant to their consumers by involving them in the process. Creating by Ben Grossman, strategic director of London-based Jack Morton Worldwide, the presentation lays out five essential principles of the new approach to effectively branding organizations and their products.

As you would expect, I especially love the stories of how some familiar (and some not-so-familiar brands) brands have excelled at garnering customer involvement. Exemplifying Grossman’s points, the stories describe inventive campaigns to inspire consumer participation in all aspects of developing and nurturing a brand. My favorites are the delightlfully creative HP campaign in Paris and the ingenious ordering system for home delivery created by Dubai’s Red Tomato Pizza.

Review the slide presentation at http:bit.ly/BrandAsVerb and then leave your comments.

What are your favorite ideas? Why?

Communication Skills Among Top 10 Tips for New Executives

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

A top executive recently wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal listing the top “10 Tips for New Executives”, and two important communication skills were among them. Fay Vincent rose to the top of three distinctly different enterprises, demonstrating that he knows what he’s talking about. He’s the former president and CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., executive vice president of Coca-Cola Co., and the eighth commissioner of Major League Baseball. He’s the kind of person we’d all like to have had advice from in the early stages of our careers, and his 10 Tips are insights he wishes he had known sooner.

The two communication skills he included on his list are

  • Listening for advice
  • Explaining your strategy frequently, stated in different ways

Why are these two skills important? Vincent explains that regular interaction with employees at all levels and listening to what they’re talking about is essential for effective leadership. You need to know what’s important to the people you’re asking to follow you. If anyone wants to talk with you, take time to listen to their views and if it’s a criticism, consider the person’s position and respond thoughtfully, even when you disagree.

Repeatedly explaining your core strategy will ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction and maximizing productivity. By rephrasing the strategy periodically, people at all levels, who may have different communication skills and vocabularies, will be sure to hear your meaning. In other words, let there be no doubt what success looks like in your organization. I would add to this that telling stories of “people caught doing things right” is a proven way to make your goals clear. People understand a story and can apply the lesson to their own jobs much more easily than they can “translate” a high-level mission statement. Are you listening?