Why I do what I do? Business storytelling at its compelling best

Business Storytelling‘In July 1985, 5 year old Eve van Grafhorst was banned from attending her local kindergarten in Kincumber, NSW.  Eve was HIV positive and had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion when she was born.  This was the time of the grim reaper ads about AIDS and families in the town of Kincumber would cross the street to avoid Eve and her family.  Completely ostracised Eve and her family migrated to Hastings, New Zealand where I met her while working for the newspaper. 

One day in New Zealand Eve decided to raise money for AIDS awareness by selling hugs for $1.00 at the local mall. Everyone was giving her a hug and helping her raise money except for this one man who was watching from a distance.  I asked him if he planned to give her a hug and he told me ‘I am scared to give her a hug as I might catch something’.  I told Eve and she went over to the man and gently talked to him for nearly an hour at the end of which he gave her a hug and $1.00 and there wasn’t a dry eye in the mall.  When I saw how this little girl could work for an hour to raise $1.00 to make a difference I realised how much I could do to make a difference. 

This was my turning point and I decided to set up my company m.a.d.woman, committed to encouraging, inspiring and enabling people to make a positive difference in the environment, community and to the lives of people who need support.  Eve died peacefully aged 11 in her mother’s arms. She remains one of the most inspiration people in my life.’

Melina Schamroth

We recently had the privilege of hearing this story shared by Social entrepreneur Melina Schamroth, on why she set up her business.  We were also so delighted to learn that on on Friday night m.a.d.woman was named the National Winner of the 2011 Telstra Business Awards – Yellow Pages Social Responsibility category. GO Melina!

Authenticity in business storytelling

I’m a great fan of the Gruen transfer, a show we have here in Australia.  In one of the episodes they talked about marketing spin and  said in marketing spin you take one truth and spin everything around it.  I was immediately struck by how business storytelling is the complete opposite of that.  Because for your storytelling to be successful, everything about it needs to be authentic.

So in this video let’s explore authenticity in organisational storytelling.  One of the first things to consider and this comes to us from Steve Denning, is your stories need to be both factually true as well as authentically true.

To illustrate this, Denning shares this example….’On the Titanic’s maiden voyage 700 people arrived in New York’.  This is factually true  but it leaves out the detail that the ship sank and 1500 people died.

So your story needs to be both factually true and authentically true.

The other thing to consider with authenticity in business, is that you as the storyteller need to believe in your story and its purpose – your intent needs to be authentic.

A few years ago we did some work with a leadership team that was outsourcing some of their work overseas and they were looking for stories to accompany  this.  When no stories emerged we asked them ‘can you honestly put your hand on your heart and say you believe this is the best thing for your company?’…..and they couldn’t.  So unless you believe in the purpose you are not going to have an authentic story.

The other point we want to draw from that example is not everything needs a story.  So use stories only if it is authentic to do so otherwise just go with the data….which is what that leadership team did.  They just went with the data about outsourcing their operations.

The last point to make about authenticity is congruence.  There needs to be a connection, there needs to be a congruence between your words and your actions.  When Cameron Clyne, (current CEO of National Australia Bank) became CEO, one of his early promises was to be open and approachable.  When Cameron Clyne was fairly new he attended one of the NAB’s internal events and took a seat down the back.  A lady who worked in IT approached him and said ‘Excuse me you are sitting in my seat’.   He immediately apologised and vacated her seat.  As soon as Cameron left some of the lady’s colleagues said ‘Do you know who that was?  The new CEO!’.  She said ‘You are kidding, no way why would he sit up in the back?’.    That story became one of the stories that started circulating in the bank and it showed people the congruence between Cameron’s words and his actions.

So just to recap …authenticity in storytelling is everything.  All your stories need to be authentic and when we are talking about authenticity we are asking you to consider these things.

Your stories need to be both factually true and authentically true.

You as a storyteller need to believe in the purpose of your story.

Use stories only if it is authentic to do so, otherwise just go with the data.

And finally for authentic storytelling you need congruence between your words and your actions.

We would love you to make a comment of when you have seen leaders who have been authentic or not with their storytelling.

Business Storytelling – The Myth of the Natural Born Storyteller

In the work we do with business leaders on organsiational storytelling, we are often asked about ‘natural’ storytellers.  Granted some people are better at it than others, just like some people are better at tennis or singing than others……but everyone can get better at it with preparation and practice.

In this our first video blog, Yamini Naidu explodes the myth of the natural born storyteller. ..and shares their success secrets with you.