A RO U N D
AROUND The Power of Storytelling at W
I BY E V E LY N C L A R K
THE C O R P O RAT E
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
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.
RD I SEPTEMBER 2007
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,
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 www.corpstory.com. From Around the Corporate Campﬁre: How Great Leaders use Stories to Inspire Success by Evelyn Clark