Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Great Corporate Storytelling at Microsoft

Thursday, March 19th, 2015


 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?

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

Culture of Communication Maximizes Employee Engagement

Thursday, 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 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.

Transmedia A New Approach to Storytelling

Thursday, 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?


Two Steps to Creating a Culture of Learning

Thursday, 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–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?

Sell Ideas Like Malcolm Gladwell: Tell Stories

Thursday, 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

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?

Storytelling Is Essential Business Skill

Thursday, 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

Storytelling Skills Enhance Workplace Learning

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

The majority of knowledge that workers need to perform their jobs is gained informally, usually by swapping stories with co-workers in the lunch room or around the coffee pot. That’s when co-workers can compare notes on what’s worked and hasn’t worked, and  share a new technique or process that occurred to someone while performing the job. Studies have demonstrated that fully 70 percent of essential job knowledge is gained informally, with only 30 percent learned in formal classroom trainings or through one-on-one mentoring.

Recognizing that informal learning involves story swaps, many leading organizations have structured a learning system based on teaching storytelling skills. Sharing experiential stories among and between work teams and departments is a highly effective way to help workers transfer knowledge effectively–in a way that’s easily understood and remembered.

Even so, according to the American Society for Training & Development, many organizations still do not have ways to assess whether learning has taken place; neither do they systematically support the actual implementation of new skills and knowledge on the job.

To ensure that “transfer of learning” takes place, organizations need to develop a learning transfer plan, institute tools and processes to reinforce the skills and knowledge relayed in training, and adopt a means of measuring whether the skills and knowledge are being used on the job. As with any company-wide effort, full management support and involvement is required at every level of the organization in order for the training system to “take”.

Storytelling Is Only Tool that Inspires and Changes Behavior

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

31IR01Hm5+L__AA160_“Slides leave listeners dazed. Prose remains unread. Reasons don’t change behavior. When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools. It’s the only thing that works,” Steve Denning wrote in a column on Storytelling and other “soft skills” garnered little respect in 20th Century business, Denning points out; instead, scientific data, numbers and left-brain analytical skills were highly valued. However, in the new economy based on innovation, storytelling is crucial to success.

Reporting on a book entitled, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, by Brian Boyd, Denning says the author scientifically explains why storytelling is important. Essentially, when people are treated like machines, as seen in many 20th Century analytically-based organizations, they eventually become dispirited and disengaged, just working for the paycheck. Any sense of being fired up by the organization’s mission quickly dissipates. But that won’t work anymore.

Storytelling has gained increased recognition as a valuable tool as we’ve entered the 21st Century, the book’s author says, because it is a central component of innovation, serving as a stimulus for creative thinking and new possibilities. As many other researchers and social scientists have explained in recent years, stories are the way people make sense of the world; when the brain is overwhelmed with data, it organizes the most important facts into a story, which also helps a person remember the data. Human beings have been making sense of their world through stories for so long, in fact, that social scientists say storytelling is imbedded in our DNA.

Has your organization embraced storytelling as a critical leadership and management tool? If not, it runs a high risk of being left behind in the new economy. With success determined by the ability to innovate, the winners will be those who tell the right stories to not only engage their people but to inspire innovative thinking.

What Storytelling Is

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

A recent blog post by a professed storytelling consultant reminded me that, while there’s consensus on the power of story, there still is no agreement on on the essential elements of a narrative to qualify it as a story–and there’s no agreed-upon definition for storytelling, either. It’s important to call attention to the need for a generally understood definition for both words, not only for clarity and accuracy, but also because the English language has no other word but story to denote any message–and many messages clearly are not stories!

When I was under contract to the International Storytelling Center several years ago, a colleague and I created a signature organizational story training program, faculty guides and other support materials. In collaboration with the founder of the ISC, Jimmy Neil Smith, over a period of several weeks we deliberately chose each of the following words before reaching agreement on the following definition:

“Storytelling is a process of purposeful communication that effectively uses stories to successfully engage the receiver.”

I have since developed the 7 Secrets of Story, a central element of my Corporate Storytelling workshop that’s a valuable segment of the training. To learn what those secrets are, schedule a workshop for your organization or work team.  You’ll also learn how and why stories work; how to power up your own communications by identifying stories for specific purposes; and how to use tools for structuring your stories.