Why Storytelling is Influence in Disguise (part 2)

The power of reflection

Ask your employees to tell the story of who they are and what they do, and they have to STOP what they’re doing and reflect on it first. And that’s a powerful thing to do. Normally we’re charging around at 100 miles an hour and never pause to consider whether or not we’re working intelligently or indeed on the right thing at all.

I like Seth Godin’s reference to our ‘art’ in his book Linchpin. For him, art doesn’t just mean paints and canvas – it’s creativity in its broadest sense (a receptionist who placates an irate customer, a person who connects people or solves a problem in an unusual way). Enabling people to understand the ‘art’ they do will re-engage and re-motivate them in a way that transcends normal financial incentives. The very act of reflection leads to renewed wisdom and a greater understanding of the employee’s place (and value) in the business.

The Storytelling Culture

I talk a lot to my clients about developing a storytelling culture. I suggest they create platforms where co-workers can share their own experiences to the benefit of the group.

It simulates creative thinking.

(“I saw this great idea in the hotel I stayed in last week”).

 

It improves cross-departmental co-operation.

(“We’re looking for these opportunities; it seems you guys meet these people all the time”).

 

It raises standards.

(“I love the way you dealt with that situation; what can we learn here?”).

The value of intangibles

Michael Margolis makes a fascinating point in his manifesto ‘Believe Me’. He reminds us that in the modern world so much of the value of a company’s assets is what the accountants describe as ‘intangibles’. That’s things like brand perception, team spirit, intellectual and social capital.

Picking up on the first of those, people’s perception of a brand is really an amalgamation of all their experiences of it, the footprint that’s left behind every time you interact with it. Where their experiences of the company are inconsistent, and at odds with the ‘mission statement’, the brand is weakened (you might say Tiger Woods is an example!).  As Margolis points out, it’s very hard to measure or manage those intangibles through spreadsheets – although some try! Instead, we do so through stories, both within the company and outside.

We love to hear (and re-tell) a great story about exceptional customer service, personal bravery, unexpected outcomes or other things that are remarkable (ie worth remarking upon). This is good old-fashioned ‘word-of-mouth’ but it’s more powerful now than ever, especially because of social media. Stuff spreads!

Be a bit more interesting!

Social media has changed the landscape of business communication. Web 2.0 (the self-publishing capabilities of the internet) has made it possible for anyone to start putting their material in front of others, but therein lies the rub. In some respects it’s TOO easy and it’s led to a plethora of self-congratulatory one-way traffic – all I, us, me and we. It’s all very well telling people about yourself, but the fact is so much of what people say is bland and boring. It’s factual, information-heavy material that leaves people cold.

Social media is a wonderful opportunity to establish your reputation not only as an expert in your niche, but also as someone (individual or organisation) with a personality. And yes, that’s where stories come in! When you establish a culture of storytelling you’ll capture some wonderful anecdotes that say more about you and your values than any mission statement could.

It’s far more interesting to read and hear about how you transformed someone’s situation in a novel or creative way. Become like a story factory and develop a vault that you can draw upon when you need to, either during F2F interactions or on-line. Gradually, you’ll develop your unique ‘signature’, get talked about and generate a lot more PULL.

Authenticity and the Back-story

Listening to a Success Magazine CD the other day, there was one recurrent theme from all the guru presenters in relation to effective leadership – authenticity. So if you equate storytelling with leadership (and that’s another recurrent theme!), what we’re looking for in those with a message to deliver is the A-word.

In this sense, I like what my friend Ian Brodie refers to as your ‘back-story’. By this, we mean something about why you do what you do, what led you to be here today, speaking to us about something you obviously feel strongly about.

In my own case it was a collapsed business (and marital) relationship that led me down a different path and helped me discover my purpose. Now you might say it’s dangerous to reveal too much about yourself, but if you believe in the principle that people buy people first and foremost, it pays to be honest and open and give a little insight into your journey.

It may be that it’s BECAUSE those things happened that you’re able to speak with authority about your topic. Now you’re wiser, stronger and able to pass some nuggets on to others. There might not be anything as dramatic as a major trauma in a back-story, but a little insight adds colour, credibility and humanity to the person in front of us.

Conclusion

Story isn’t just about sitting by the campfire with a “once upon a time” approach. It’s absolutely fundamental to our ability to convey the essence of who we are, what we do and why others should believe in our message. It’s the soft under-belly of true influence.

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