A Star and a Suggestion


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One of our highest needs is appreciation. This is true even if you are not normally needy!

My daughter was telling me her violin teacher has created a simple way for the kids to appreciate one other after a performance. They use a system called “star and a suggestion.” A star would be one thing I liked about your violin playing, and a suggestion is one thing to do better/differently. A simple frame and an easy way for kids to learn the art of appreciation.

Business, of course, is a much more hard-nosed place. We, as employees, want our individuality and our contributions at work recognised in some way. Imagine our delight if we are recognised as customers.

A group of customers was invited to test out a new model ATM for TD Bank in Canada. When they tested these ATMs, they found out that they were Automated Thanking Machines and not Automated Teller Machines. The ATMs spat out gifts instead of balances, not just mundane movie tickets but well thought-out gifts. A mother with a sick daughter in Trinidad received a plane ticket. Another parent received a family pack of passes to take her kids to Disneyland. Through #TDThanksYou day, the bank thanked over 30,000 customers—some receiving money in their bank accounts at a branch or via direct deposit. The emotionally heartfelt responses of their customers speak to the thoughtfulness of this idea.

The #TDThanksYou day event continues to this day following its successful launch in 2014.

#TDThanksYou day poses a challenge for all of us in business. It raises the bar. While we might have plenty of suggestions for our customers, how can we give them a star?

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Shhh this is private…


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Our biggest fear with storytelling is that we might disclose too much. It is after all storytelling and not group therapy! At work, no one wants to be like that friend on Facebook who overshares.

The paradox is that successful storytelling requires vulnerability. This then begs the question—how can we do storytelling and do it well?

When working with clients, I suggest thinking in terms of ‘storytelling wells’. These wells are what you use to draw your stories. They provide you with storytelling ideas. The wells help us strike a balance between vulnerability and oversharing.

Public story well

These are stories that are available in the public domain.
For example, check out how thought leader Carolyn Tate uses the Golden Buddha story (available in the public domain) to create a link to her message. You could use this story too and land it on a message that is relevant to your audience.

Professional story well

These are stories about things that happen at work. Zappos is an online retailer with a core value to ‘deliver WOW through service’. A legendary customer service story is how Zappos shipped a pair of shoes at no charge to a customer whose Zappos shoe order had been delivered to the wrong location. The customer was a best man at a wedding, and the replacement order literally saved the day.

Personal story well

This is powerful stuff in business yet it requires some level of self-disclosure and vulnerability. Here is an example of a personal story I share on my website and LinkedIn profile.

Private story well

These are stories you decide not to share; they are private. You as the storyteller decide what is private for you. Sometimes a client wants to share a story about having undergone a serious illness. The test I recommend my clients use is, what is the purpose of this? And how does this serve the room (help your audience)? If the line between personal and private is blurry, this simple test can help you.

Understanding and using these storytelling wells prevent your stories from floundering on the rocks of inappropriate disclosure.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Your inner guerilla


mower-1.1What if you looked out of your window and saw acres of unmown public land?  Overgrown because the city had run out of funds and could no longer afford the upkeep of its public spaces? If you are Tom Nardone the answer is obvious.  You jump on your lawnmower and start mowing the public parks yourself.  Before you know it, an army of volunteers have joined you and you soon form the Detroit Mower Gang, with members volunteering their time to mow Detroit’s public parks so the kids have a safe place to play.

As Nardone believes: “Doing something is way more than doing nothing.”

In an era where leadership can sometimes seem like a hollow archetype – we’ve witnessed leadership failures across several significant public institutions – the beacon of hope is the rise of grassroots leaders like Nardone.  Guerilla leaders.

Glen’s Espresso in Brisbane, Australia, is another example of this kind of leadership.  Glen runs a coffee cart where conventionally you have a barista making the coffee and one person manning the till.  Glen decided to base his coffee leadership on trust.  As a customer, you write your coffee order on the takeaway cup, put money in the till and take out your own change. A simple instruction sheet tells you how to do this.

Neither Nardone nor Glen have a formal leadership title or mandate but each have chosen to make a difference through their actions.  All it takes is getting in touch with your inner leadership guerilla.

Please comment – I love hearing from you.

Ericsson’s Success Story…


Early 2009, Sonia Aplin was facing a challenge.  As the Internal Communications Manager for Ericsson Australia and New Zealand Sonia was tasked with advising the senior leadership team on how best to communicate the new corporate strategy.

The challenge for Sonia and Ericsson was two-fold.  She knew that for the strategy to be successful, employees needed more than to be able to just recite the new strategy – they needed to really believe in it and understand how their work contributed to the organisation’s success.

The other challenge was that the latest Employee Engagement Survey showed two concerning facts.  The Leadership Communication index was at 57 points (compared with the Ericsson Group total of 73) while Strategy Awareness was at a moderate 66 points.  A critical success factor for the Ericsson strategy depended on improvement in both these areas.  Sonia and her HR colleagues had a goal to increase both those measures by 3 points….and anyone who works closely with employee opinion surveys will know that this is easier said than done.

During this time, Barack Obama was the hot topic.  Being a communications specialist, Sonia was more interested in the way he communicated as opposed to his politics.  What she noticed, as well as other commentators, was Obama’s effective use of story.  So that triggered Sonia’s research into storytelling.  What started with a Google search, ended with a tender process and working relationship with us to deliver organisational storytelling workshops to their top 80 leaders.

Sonia along with the Leadership & Culture Manager went to the executive team with their recommendation.  To take the leaders through a 2-day program.  The first day was designed to ensure understanding of the new strategy and the desired behaviours associated with that.

The second day was our organisational storytelling workshops, which would give them the practical business skills of storytelling to engage their employees and clients in the strategy.

They were tentative at first…..we are talking about taking storytelling into a male-dominated, engineering firm, but their courage was rewarded. The executive team supported the approach and every single member of the team, including the CEO, attended the training and continue to encourage and role model the use of organisational storytelling throughout Ericsson.  97% of the participants agreed it was relevant to their role with 91% saying it improved their effectiveness as an influencer and leader.

Leadership Communication Capability, increased by a staggering 18 points.

So did it work?  Sonia states “Anecdotally, yes. The use of stories in team meetings, presentations and formal and informal communications is obvious and is having a real impact.  Another measure of the success is that the Australian and New Zealand Communications team won the Ericsson Global Award for Best Strategy Communications, with storytelling being cited as the point-of-difference. So that was something we were all very proud of and we are now working with our global colleagues to bring storytelling to their organisations.”

But what about the tangibles…the key measures of success?  Increasing both Leadership Communication and Strategy Awareness by 3 points. The subsequent Employee Opinion Survey showed that Strategy Awareness increased by 11 points and Leadership Communication Capability, increased by a staggering 18 points. That is what we call a success story.