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					         A RO U N D
         AROUND                                    The Power of Storytelling at W
                                                                               I BY   E V E LY N C L A R K

                                                               o introduce new employ-         and CEO of the giant warehouse chain
                                                               ees to its corporate culture,   Costco Wholesale. “They’re what re-

                                                               Nike tells them the story       ally hit home with people; stories bring
                                                               about a track coach and a       meaning to the work we do.” Although

       CAMPFIRE                                                waffle iron. To teach man-
                                                  agement trainees about its corporate
                                                  values, Costco Wholesale relates the
                                                  story of Calvin Klein jeans. And to
                                                                                               a picture is worth a thousand words,
                                                                                               Sinegal says, a story told appropriately
                                                                                               is priceless.
                                                                                                  Stories also stay with people longer
                                                  honour superior performance, FedEx           than facts and figures because they
                                                  recounts tales of employees’ heroic          reach the heart as well as the mind, ac-
                                                  efforts to fulfill the company’s promise      cording to Gregory Bateson, author of

                      STOCK ILLUSTRATION SOURCE
                                                  to customers.                                Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unit.
                                                     Great leaders know that employees         Bronwyn Fryer, senior editor of “Har-
                                                  need more than lofty mission state-          vard Business Review,” agrees. “There
                                                  ments and industry buzzwords. To             are two ways to persuade people,”
                                                  understand and appreciate what their         Fryer writes. “The first is by using con-
                                                  organisation stands for, workers need        ventional rhetoric, which is what most
                                                  to hear about its people, its values, and    executives are trained in. That’s not
                                                  its history.                                 good enough because people are not
                                                     So smart leaders tell stories. They       inspired to act by reason alone. The
                                                  periodically gather their “tribe” around     other much more powerful way to per-
                                                  the corporate campfire to recall the leg-     suade people is to unite an idea with an
                                                  ends and share new tales. By touching        emotion in a compelling story.”
                                                  the hearts as well as the minds of their        Stories have always been the “glue”
                                                  employees, they create a legacy of ex-       connecting people with their cultures
                                                  perience that inspires generations.          and with one another, and some social
                                                     “What else have we got besides sto-       scientists say that humans are hard-
                                                  ries?” asks Jim Sinegal, the co-founder      wired for storytelling. Tribal practices
                                                  C RED I T G OES HERE                                                              51
RD   I   SEPTEMBER 2007                                                                                                                       A R O U N D T H E C O R P O R AT E C A M P F I R E

and history have traditionally been            Here’s how some top corporations         Stories Celebrate Heroes                         Store, an American retail chain based in
passed down through the generations          use stories to get messages across:        A FedEx courier in Honolulu, Hawaii,             Texas, noticed a customer studying the
by word of mouth.                                                                       was making a delivery run during a               display of a closet shelving unit. Know-
   Karen Dietz, PhD, a folklorist and        Stories Preserve History, Nurture          rainstorm accompanied by unusually               ing that the do-it-yourself wire unit
organisational consultant, explains that     the Culture                                high winds. When a strong gust sent a            could be daunting to figure out, the
the role of tribal storyteller has tradi-    Nike uses the power of a story to en-      package from the back of his truck and           clerk offered to help determine what
tionally been a high honour.                 sure its employees understand the          plunked it into the ocean, James Bush            components the customer needed to fit
   “It has been the teller’s responsibil-    company’s heritage and philosophy.         Jr didn’t hesitate to dive in after it. He       their home.
ity to preserve the tribe’s stories, the     Founded more than 40 years ago, the        recovered the package and, without                  The customer bought the unit and
heart and soul of its ancestral heritage,”   company still uses a story about the       taking time to change his soaked                 the store manager shared the account
Dietz says. “These legends articulate        late co-founder Bill Bowerman to keep      clothes, delivered it to the customer.           with all the other stores as an example
the group’s perspective of the world         staff motivated. The University of Ore-       FedEx systematically tells stories            of a success story. Now, the company
and their place in it. The storyteller       gon track coach was eating waffles for      like this to make heroes of employees            gathers sales stories from each store
must ensure that each member of the          breakfast one morning when he was in-      who go beyond the call of duty to get            every evening and disseminates the
group understands the importance of          spired to pour latex on his wife’s waffle   packages delivered on time, fulfilling            best to all the outlets so managers can
their roles in continuing the traditions     iron. That impulsive act led to the        the company’s promise to customers               start the next day by sharing successes.
upon which the very survival of the          development of Nike’s famed waffle-         that absolutely nothing will get in their           The company has found that, when
tribe depends.”                              soled running shoes.                       way. The stories are disseminated in a           sales of a core product start to slip, the
   Similarly, survival in business also         “We think of this as internal brand-    wide variety of corporate media, in-             slide can be reversed by focusing the
relies on the group understanding and        ing – stories about people getting         cluding employee recognition events,             daily stories on how a sales person
buying into the same basic narrative.        things done,” says Nelson Farris, Nike’s   newsletters, and the company website.            helped a customer choose the right
Hence, being able to tell and pass on        Global Director of Corporate Educa-                                                         version of the product for their need.
corporate stories is a core leadership       tion. “If we connect people with our       Stories Help Increase Sales                         Using stories as the bridge between
skill, according to Harvard professor        heritage, chances are they won’t view      One day a sales clerk at the Container           customers and sales staff is also the
Howard Gardner. “Stories are the sin-        Nike as just another place to work.”
gle most powerful tool in a leader’s            One of the first CEOs to use story-
tool kit.”                                   telling to deliberately manage through            SEVEN WAYS TO IMPLEMENT
   “How’s your day going?” “What’s the       stories, David Armstrong of Arm-           STORYTELLING TODAY
latest news on the company’s new             strong International uses his books of
product?” “What’s the status of your         collected stories as recruitment tools.    Stories can be used in any kind of organisation at any level and with any audience. Here are
                                                                                        seven ways that you can immediately begin practising the art of storytelling in your own work.
project?” Commonly posed in the              He asks candidates to take a book
workplace, each of these questions is        home and read it to learn about the
usually answered in story form,              corporate culture and determine            1 Keep a notepad handy 3 Incorporate stories
                                                                                           to jot down examples of
                                                                                        “people caught doing
                                                                                                                             in your regular commu-
                                                                                                                         nications, for example,
                                                                                                                                                           5 Share stories    in your reg-
                                                                                                                                                                ularly schedule meetings.
whether or not you are consciously           whether it’s the kind of place they
aware of being a storyteller.
   Knowing that you are constantly
                                             would like to work. For employees, he
                                             posts stories on bulletin boards, puts
                                                                                        things right,” as David
                                                                                        Armstrong refers to the
                                                                                                                         memos, reports, presenta-
                                                                                                                         tions, and meetings.
                                                                                                                                                           6 Ask for feedback      on
                                                                                                                                                               your storytelling skills –
                                                                                                                                                           or hire a coach – to hone
telling stories is, however, essential to    them in paycheck envelopes, and            success stories he tells.                                          your delivery.
the figuring out which stories to tell,       frames them to hang on the walls.
                                                                                        2   Develop a catchy title for   4Set a date     with your
                                                                                                                             work team to identify
when to tell them, who to tell them to,
and, most importantly, why you are
                                             Armstrong has also recorded CDs and
                                             videos of people re-enacting their own
                                                                                           each story so as to grab
                                                                                        people’s attention at the very
                                                                                                                         stories that exemplify the
                                                                                                                         value of your collective con-
                                                                                                                                                           7 Continually collect new
                                                                                                                                                             stories  so you always
                                                                                                                                                           have fresh tales to supple-
telling them.                                stories for others to learn from.          beginning.                       tribution to corporate goals.     ment the legends.
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focus of a storytelling pilot launched in
March 2006 by Microsoft.
                                              quickly as they sold them at $22.99,
                                              says Sinegal, “but there was no ques-
                                                                                                                                H OW TO
   “As a technology company, it’s easy        tion that we would mark them at $22.99
to get enamoured with all the features
and functions of a solution,” says Lynne
                                              because that’s our philosophy.”
                                                 The company uses that particular
                                                                                                                                BUI L D YO U R
Stockstad, Enterprise Marketing Gen-
eral Manager. “Through storytelling,
                                              story to illustrate how it keeps faith
                                              with its customers.
                                                                                                                                OW N STO RY
you can articulate better how those              When Gary Prazac spoke at an em-                                               Everyone can become an effective communicator and hone
features and functions came to life to        ployee event organised by Medtronic,                                              leadership skills by learning to tell a good story. Use this
help a customer realise their potential.”     a biomedical engineering company                                                  template to develop your personal story collection. Update it
   Since corporate customers fre-             that develops medical devices for peo-                                            regularly, mixing fresh tales with old favourites so you’ll al-
quently visit the Microsoft campus to         ple with chronic diseases, there was                                              ways be prepared with an appropriate story when needed.
learn about new products, the com-            not a dry eye in the room.

                                                                                            PHOTO CHRISTIAN POUND/ISTOCKPHOTO
pany has its programmers include their           He told of how Parkinson’s disease                                             Story Title                        from the perspective of each         How did you overcome
                                                                                                                                The title is like a newspaper      person involved and probe          the embarrassing situation?
personal stories about developing the         had aged him, causing him to shuffle
                                                                                                                                headline; it needs to “grab”       the situation for irony, con-        What did you say when
software into the briefing.                    along with a cane and giving him an
                                                                                                                                people’s interest. Play up a       flict, humour, and insight.         your laptop crashed in the
   “The customers look at others from         expressionless face known as “Parkin-
                                                                                                                                detail of the story or add an         After you develop stories       middle of your presentation?
their company and say, ‘I told you so;        son’s mask.” He suffered from tremors                                                                                based on these experiences,
                                                                                                                                unexpected twist.
that’s what we were working on last           that caused his body to move uncon-                                                  Here are some thought-          list the number of topics          The Solution
week,” says Stockstad.                        trollably and at the same time, denied                                            starters:                          each story can be related to       Briefly and clearly describe
                                              him the ability to move when he                                                      “The Day I Learned . . . ”      and the number of lessons          how you met the challenge.
Stories Convey Values and Mission             wanted to.                                                                           “Who Would Believe . . .?”      that can be drawn from it.
Costco’s Jim Sinegal enjoys telling his          Surgery to implant Medtronic’s                                                                                                                       The Results/Payoff
Calvin Klein jeans story to illustrate        deep-brain-stimulation device, Prazac                                             The Challenge                      The Problem-Solving                Explain the impact of your
the founders’ commitment to ensuring          says, “reversed at least ten years of . . .                                       Every good story is built          Approach                           actions. Tie the point to the
good value for customers.                     symptoms. It was literally a miracle.                                             on an unusual situation,           Explain how you found a            core value you want to em-
   “We were selling Calvin Klein jeans        Not long ago, I was walking my Great                                              overcoming a challenge or          solution. Include bits of hu-      phasise.
for $29.99, and we were selling every         Dane in the woods near home when a                                                removing an obstacle. It can       mour where appropriate. A
                                                                                                                                be as momentous as starting        funny story is highly memo-        Construct the Story
pair we could get our hands on,” he           fellow dog-walker stopped to chat. He
                                                                                                                                a company or as simple as          rable, and a witty comment         Use this to write a draft:
says. “One competitor matched our             said he’d met my dog before, but an old
                                                                                                                                finding your keys. People           inserted periodically in a
price, but they had only four or five          man with a cane was with him then.                                                                                                                      Title:
                                                                                                                                who always have stories            serious story provides
pairs in each store, and we had 500 or        ‘Was that your father?’ he asked.”                                                                                                                      When we realised that
                                                                                                                                don’t have unusually eventful      necessary comic relief. For
600 pairs on the shelf. We all of a sud-         After a long pause, during which                                                                                                                             (challenge)        , my
                                                                                                                                lives. They take note of ordi-     example, a seminar leader
den got our hands on several million          practically everyone in the audience                                                                                                                    department brainstormed
                                                                                                                                nary challenges in daily life      started a programme for pro-
pairs of Calvin Klein jeans . . . at a very   reached for tissues to dry their eyes,                                                                                                                  solutions by         (your
                                                                                                                                and recount them in enter-         fessional speakers by relating
good price. It meant that, within the         Prazac concluded, “Medtronic gave me                                                                                                                    approach) . We decided to
                                                                                                                                taining ways.                      the time he spilled an entire
constraints of our markup, which is           my smile back.”                                                                                                                                                    (solution)         .
                                                                                                                                   Jot down the amusing or         glass of water on his lap just
                                                                                                                                                                                                      This is a great example of
limited to 14 per cent on any item, we                                                                                          frustrating experiences that       before he was introduced as
                                                                                                                                                                                                      what we mean when we say
had to sell them for $22.99.”                 Evelyn Clark helps executives unleash the                                         happen during an ordinary          the keynote speaker at an ex-
                                                                                                                                                                                                               (core value)          .
   They could have sold all four million      power of storytelling. More information is                                        day. Look at each experience       ecutive dinner.
pairs for that higher price almost as         available at                                                     From Around the Corporate Campfire: How Great Leaders use Stories to Inspire Success by Evelyn Clark
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