Category : Communicating

Terror in anticipation of bang

Shame on Me (Maybe)

 

This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by Lois Kelly, on Santa’s list of 2014 gift posts.


Lois recently wrote a deeply sad blog post about shame. I read it a couple of times, and bookmarked it. Something nagging me…

Tonight I sat down to write my Blog Secret Santa post. I knew I would have to revisit the concept of shame. (Merry Christmas one and all!)

Then two things happened. I read this short message from Simon Terry

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” – Czesław Miłosz

and, I was flicking through the new book by Seth Godin, “…and it’s always your turn.” In it, a quote by Alfred Hitchcock.

“There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.”

I took a photo and appended it to Simon’s post.Terror in anticipation of bang

And now, I link them both to Lois’ post about shame and silence.

Shaming those we work with upsets me as a manager, as a colleague, as a worker. As if there was not already enough discord and discomfort to deal with in the workplace!

And now I see what was nagging me about the idea of shame. It is this:

What if they are talking about me?

I don’t think they are, but what if…what if?

I had a couple of slightly uncomfortable meetings in my team recently. Nothing desperate or sad. They were discussions about the future, and how we get there. They were strategic, and practical. Nothing personal – we get along as a team. But there was enough discord and tension for me to consider: do I know my team well enough? Can I well represent their needs and desires? Have I presumed too much?

I have plenty of self-confidence and assuredness in embracing the changing nature of work. I am a change agent and provocateur, an intrapreneur and disorganizer. I can deal with a lack of certainty, with the ebb and flow of constant change, I embrace a fail-forward approach to work. I cheerlead the team to try! To fail! To keep going! To self-manage!

I always see this as open-mindedness, about creating opportunities for greatness. I care about my team deeply and want them to succeed. But what if…what if instead they feel stymied? What if my SHOUTY cheerleading holds them back? What if they thought / knew that their way – another way – would be a wrong way (in my eyes)?

I would never say any of the sentences Lois listed as symptomatic of the shameful leader… What’s your problem? et al. But what am I implying in my enthusiasm, in my single-minded pursuit of tomorrow’s workplace?

I am questioning whether I really let their voices be heard. I know my listening skills are less than stellar. Does it add up to a culture of bias to my way or the high way? Are they consequently lost or let down (if not shamed)?

There are too many rhetorical questions in this post. Apologies. Of course, like most of my blog content, I am talking and learning out loud. I am thinking: what is the BANG!, the pistol shot of truth that releases all the pent up…STUFF? How do we – me, you, the team – really get to that better workplace tomorrow?

Change agents and rebels at work like Lois are helping me navigate this leadership journey. That is their gift to me. This is a small one in return.

Jonathan

<–This Much We Know.–>

Jerry Garcia, Reluctant Rebel at Workjpeg

Acting without all the answers

Most people who step in to create change are incredibly reluctant to get involved.

Not because we don’t care. But because we realize that what it takes to solve the problem we see requires expertise far beyond what we know. We keep thinking that the experts should see the problem and step in. But when they don’t, we do. It’s pathetic, really, to paraphrase Jerry Garcia. So when should we step in and what is our role?

Focus

Happy planning season!

It’s that time of year — business planning, which means this is a great time to show how your idea supports whatever your organization’s 2014 mantra may be.

I’ve been fortunate over the past few months to facilitate strategic planning sessions in several very different industry sectors. Yet all shared a common theme:

How can we better focus, collaborate and simplify work?

When did women stop raising their hands?

An incident last week jolted me awake about women in the workplace.

I participated in two days of new employee orientation for a financial services client.  About 70 percent of the 40 people in the class were women, the rest men. As part of a group exercise the instructor asked for a representative from each table to stand up and share the group’s work.  A man spoke for every group but one, that being my table where I stood up.

I was shocked and saddened. Why are women letting men dominate, even in non-threatening situations like work orientation games?

When I was in my 20s we women boldly stood up and spoke up, knowing that our views were as valuable as the guys, oftentimes even more so.  We weren’t very good at slinging the bull shit like some of our fearless men friends. So our responses were often more considered and thoughtful.

We knew we had to speak up.  Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzeg had worked hard and sacrificed much to help us move into the corporate world. We wanted to pay it forward by succeeding and helping other women in their journeys.  Having a say and being heard was essential.

When I was working at AT&T early in my career I was promoted into a job where I made $22,000, taking over for a man who hadn’t been performing so well at the job but had been making $48,000.  More than double what I was paid for the same responsibilities. I raised this disparity with HR, which told me that the man had more experience, and, confidentially,  “if you keep speaking up like this you could hurt your career.”  I loved telling that story, and I more loved seeing the pay gap between women and men shrink.

We’ve made such gains over the 30 years, but apparently not enough.

Aside from my fear that women will continue to not get promoted as quickly or make as much as men if they do not speak up and believe in themselves, I worry about businesses being able to adapt and grow.  Research shows that the more diverse the thinking an in an organization, the faster and better it can solve problems.  If women are submissive, organizational performance will suffer.

I was recently planning a conference with a wonderful, enlightened European man.  He recruited the first 12 speakers.  Eleven of the 12 were men.  When I pointed out this imbalance, he was taken aback. He hadn’t even noticed that he had invited almost all men.  I am pleased to tell you that this conference is now equally represented.

Today the Fast Company blog  had a story that caught my eye, “Eight Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish They’d Known Then.”  When I clicked on the story all the entrepreneurs were men. Really? The writer couldn’t find one successful female entrepreneur?

Let’s call the media on this imbalanced view of business.

Let’s also get back to supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.

I don’t know about you, but I thought we had come farther.  I thought my  diligence in helping and promoting women had worked and now I could move on to new issues.

Not so.

Just as Sheryl Sandberg is doing with her LeanIn.org,  we need to help women stand up and be heard for their considerable talents and perspectives.   If they don’t speak up confidently they will be overlooked  for promotions and for increased compensation.

Worse, we wont be able to solve the complexity of today’s issues without the equal voices of both women and men, and not just women and men.  But people who think differently from one another.  Believe me, no one has the answers figured out in any industry.

 

PS — this Hay Group study just came out yesterday.

 

Is social media becoming PR?

Is social media becoming PR?

When I started my career in public relations it was a function that tried desperately to show value and “results.”   The assumption was that lots of press and “awareness” or “impressions” were good, less was less good.  None of the PR measurement models correlated to business goals like sales, customer satisfaction, brand preference, competitive intelligence — or the performance drivers of those goals.  PR was one of those “have to have” functions and leaders didn’t take it all that seriously. A career in PR, much like its pink cousin HR, was a “soft” career.

One of my good friends, a well known PR executive,  and I use to joke that our career goal was to get out of PR because it was so hard to convince executives that it could be and should be something more than publicity and crisis communications.  When I ask him how he is he jokes, “Still in PR.”

I see similarities between PR then and social media today.  Instead of impressions people are measuring  social media “engagement.”  But to what end?  How does what kind of engagement support what business goals?  Alas, I see company reports that show “results” being more and more engagement. 2,000, 5,0000, 10,000 Twitter followers.  3,000 likes on the company Facebook page.  2,000 views of the latest company video on You Tube.

My question is, so what.  It’s like the old publicity awareness goal. Awareness of what and how does that help what business strategy.

The potential value social strategies can bring to business is extraordinary.  Data mining of unstructured social data to see ways to develop new types of products and services way ahead of competitors.  Incorporating social apps into products and services to earn customer preference. Crowdsourcing to develop products and services more quickly and with much more predictable adoption rates.

These opportunities require heavy lifting.  Big brain data analysts, developers, new business processes. Willingness to experiment and iterate vs.  the traditional research, plan, develop, market (and publicize!) New types of external partner and developer relationships vs. “the agency.”  Systems thinkers vs. project managers.  You get the picture.

Most companies see social as a better way to communicate.  PR on networked, social steroids.

When I was a young woman in PR the president of my company advised me. “If you really want to get ahead, make sure there’s revenue attached to your job.”

If your company wants to get the most value from social, make sure it’s attached to revenue.  (Or a worthy strategic equivalent.) Not to meaningless impressions or  engagement numbers.

Just sayin.

 

Predicting behavior

 

This week behavioral scientist John Furey shares some of his scientific discoveries from his MindTime project. I’ve worked with many different behavioral models, and believe there’s something very big here for marketers, leaders, and each of us as individuals.

1. Your MindTime mapping system has been called the world’s most accurate personality test and the digital Myers Briggs of the 21st century.  For we non-scientists, what is the system based on that makes it so informative?

Personality tests such as the MBTI are based merely on describing traits and behaviors, categorizing behavioral patterns. MindTime reveals the drivers behind the behaviors and therefore why we behave the way we do, or as scientists might call it, the adaptive value of the behavior. What is significant is MindTime is looking at causation, not simply outcomes.

Understanding why people behave the way they do, rather than simply describing what they do, provides a greater ability to predict what they will do.

MindTime uses a phenomenological framework—Past, Present and Future Thinking—as a means to understand people. These basic concepts of thought— Past/Certainty, Present/Probability, and Future/Possibility—all have adaptive value; in fact, they explain almost all the concepts of the cognitive mind.

So, by measuring how people think, we can use this knowledge to predict behavior, attitudes, and even the personality traits they manifest. By knowing why a person does what s/he does, and the why and how of their strategy, we can use the knowledge in just about any environment to facilitate individual and organizational success.

 

2. What are the perspectives of Past, Present and Future Thinkers?

Here’s a brief snapshot of each:

3. When people get their individual maps, what insights do they learn about themselves and how does this help them professionally?

Our maps provide people with an in-depth interpretative report on their thinking style. It quickly and accurately helps a person to understand the value they bring to the world. We explain a person’s:

  • Communication style
  • Leadership style
  • Relationship needs
  • World-view
  • What they will resist doing. Knowing our resistances helps us navigate our limitations.

The most common comment we hear from people when they take the MindTime profile is “Aha!! That explains so much about me.”  When used in team building it provides this same kind of epiphany for our understanding of others.

However, while these insights are invaluable I think there is a more significant learning that comes out of all this that impacts our professional abilities in a profound way.

We each know people who we can rely on to bring ideas, inspiration and a sense of possibility to our lives. In fact, this might describe you. We also know people who are much more likely to bring order, planning, procedures and stability to bear. They’re much more engaged in creating continuity than they are engaged in bringing change. Likewise, there are those among us who are more keenly aware of and driven to understanding the meaning of data and facts. These folks bring us depth of thought, a need for truth and trustworthiness and can be relied on to think deeply about things rather than coming up with ad lib answers to good and necessary questions.

Knowing that a person is driven towards creating order and harmony versus being driven towards opportunities and risk-taking versus being driven towards information and analysis of a situation can change the quality and value of our interactions significantly.  It empowers us to manage, motivate, listen and speak in a more empathetic, or at least consciously aware, way.

Empathy, messaging, motivation, management, collaboration, roles, engagement style, motivation, change readiness, adaptability, and so on, are all positively impacted by this basic human awareness of each other.

 

4. How can MindTime help teams of people working together? Why do some project teams work very well and others get stuck?  What could managers do to create more consistently high performing teams?

MindTime can accurately predict how well a team will function at a task or towards a goal in view of the mix of thinking styles of people on the team and the roles people are playing. It can also predict the kinds of pitfalls a given mix of thinkers will encounter, both interpersonally and in team dynamics.

MindTime helps the team understand the thinking styles of each team member so that people can understand and value different people’s contributions. Future thinkers will be focused on possibilities, while Past thinkers will want proof and certainty of ideas, and the Present thinkers will want to be able to predict outcomes. Understanding people’s thinking helps us create the right setup and awareness of what’s really going on instead of leaving us to fix what is bound to go wrong.

 

5. You say that how people think influences how they behave.  Many of us are trying to change behavior as part of our work, like getting people to try a new product or approve a new policy.  What should we know or be doing about thinking to affect behavior?

People’s thinking processes are very difficult to change so the best strategy is to figure out how we can align our objectives with a person—or group of people’s—natural inclination.

By understanding people’s motivation, which you do by understanding their thinking styles, you can align your goals with their fundamental objective (to pursue Possibilities, Probabilities, or Certainties). Alignment becomes a simpler way to elicit the desired behavior.

 

6. If you understand how your customers think, how does that help you market to them?  Can you give us an example?

Sure, but given that you’re going to blog this why don’t I give you two visual examples and brief explanations?

This first map is of a target market for a product. Through a separate study the ads used were found to be messaging a Future audience. They contained works such as: ideas, possibility, and phrases like “What could you do?” And, ”What’s next?” Can you spot the problem here? Why did the campaign fail?

Yes, the target and messaging was to Future thinking, the audience on the other hand was very much Past and Present in its thinking. A total miss.

The second map is of a group of people recruited to help with brand innovation. These were loyal supporters, not just customers of the brand, recruited by a brand community management company. Remember here, as you look at this map, that the desired outcome was brand innovation. Innovation typically starts with Future thinking. Do you see why brands were often less than enthusiastic about results? The recruited brand community had self-selected. They were of a mind to turn up on time once a week and participate by offering their opinions, predictably Present/Past thinking people.

The conclusion was that this audience, which lacked in Future thinking, was not really innovating at all. They were discussing problems that needed solving and identifying other “new” ways that the product might fit with their needs.

 

7. What use of your MindTime mapping system has been the most personally fulfilling for you? What happened?

I remember a specific event. I was asked by a headmaster to work with students and faculty on the opening day of school.  The Sage School was a new alternative school in Sun Valley, Idaho. On the opening day I addressed the assembled school and everyone learned the simple MindTime model and how it works. We mapped everyone in the school and spent the day practicing how to collaborate more effectively.

We learned how everybody has value to bring if we would only see it. And, by pointing out the likely pitfalls in human communication between the archetypes, we gave everyone both an awareness and tips on how to avoid them, or at least recognize them before they became an issue. I received a wonderful letter from the headmaster about a year later telling how enduring this learning had been and how it was still being used in lots of ways. That kind of work makes my life sweet in a really good way.

 

8. What potential application of the system would you most like to see happen?

I would support any application of MindTime that decreases violence in all of its forms and increases human empathy. That’s the driving force behind all of this work; it is an ideal shared by all of the partners in the MindTime Project.

 ****************

Note: if you self-identify as a change agent, maverick or rebel at work, Foghound invites you to take  a complimentary MindTime thinking analysis test to get a personalized profile of your thinking style, leadership style, relationships needs, communications style, and what you are most likely resist doing. Click here to get your profile, which takes just a few minutes.

If you’re interested in learning more about the potential application of MindTime for your organization, contact Lois (lkelly@foghound.com) or John (john@mindtimetech.com).

 

Get things under control

“The Cardinals are tired of reading about financial corruption, sexual improprieties and infighting at the Vatican. They want a Pope who can get things under control,” explained Father Thomas Reese to Tom Ashbrook on his NPR “On Point” radio show today.

When there are calls to “get things under control”  there is no hope for control.

Whether it’s trying to control clergy in the Catholic Church, parents angry over school policies, or customers  tweeting unfavorable product reviews, there is no control. 

When I hear “get things under control” I know it’s a situation that can only be addressed by getting at root cause issues.  It’s not a “handling” or crisis communications issue, it’s a systemic issue requiring that the real problems be addressed.

No new Pope can get the Catholic Church “under control” without addressing some deep seated issues.

No business leader can get customers under control if customers  hate the products or customer service.

No school official can get parents under control if they feel their children are not being served.

No politician can get voters under control if they believe the politician is more interested in getting elected than representing their views.

No good can come from trying to control.

 

10 truths about skeptical employees

I was cleaning my office (!) and found a speech from 18 years ago given by Rod Oldham, of then Bell South, to students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.  In an age of disruption, some “truths” stay constant.

  1. We’re smarter than senior managers think we are.
  2. We think senior managers are smarter than they are.
  3. We hate it when you make us feel stupid.
  4. We have short attention spans.
  5. We have long memories.
  6. We’re desperate for direction.
  7. We want to be able to think on our own.
  8. We want the company to succeed.
  9. We don’t want to leave.
  10. We want to believe.

Facilitating healthy dissent

When we corporate rebels (aka intrapreneurs) disagree, it signals we care about an issue. That we want to wrestle with it to find better approaches. So why do people so often try to shut us down?

Many people think disagreeing means that we’re being unkind and insensitive.  Or impolite. (Egads!) “Let’s take this off line,” they say.

What’s unkind to me is pretending an uncomfortable issue doesn’t exist when everyone knows it does. There’s a tension at work when this happens. Nothing is moving forward, corporate inertia is draining us, and we’re becoming ever more skeptical about the cry for  greater collaboration.

Furthermore, the longer an issue is ignored, the more frustrated and demoralized people become. Even worse, trust and respect among people erode. And when that’s gone, the organization gets crippled.

“When someone comes to a meeting and states an opinion or makes a suggestion that his teammates don’t agree with, those teammates have a choice: they can explain their disagreement and work through it, or they can withhold their opinion and allow themselves to quietly lose respect for their colleague,” says organizational health consultant Patrick Lencioni in his excellent book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

“When team members get to choose the latter option — withholding their opinions — frustration inevitably sets in. Essentially, they’re deciding to tolerate their colleague rather than trust him.”

More than most, we rebels see healthy dissent as a team sport, where everyone with something to contribute is expected to contribute. If you don’t speak up your silence can be interpreted to mean that you agree and have nothing to add.

We view dissent as a way of together getting stronger, like a team preparing to hike Mt. Everest. All the potential issues are honestly discussed and worked through to increase the likelihood of a successful expedition where no one gets hurt. We’re fed by the positive energy around these conversations. We appreciate and value what our colleagues have to say.

We also listen fiercely and ask frank questions.  It’s about inquiry vs. preaching.  But most organizations practice advocacy instead of inquiry in their conversations, say Sue Annis Hammond and Andrea Mayfield in The Thin Book of Naming Elephants.

“Advocacy is a win-lose form of communication…each person is trying to convince the other that he or she is right and there is only one right answer.  Dialogue assumes people see the world differently…each person assumes he or she can learn something new from others.”

Practices for inviting healthy conflict

So what can you do to move from advocacy to inquiry? To help foster healthy dissent vs. angry debates?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Establish agreements: set some guiding principles at the start of a meeting and keep them posted on the wall as a reminder. If someone starts to violate an agreement, bring everyone’s attention back to the list on the wall. Here are some guiding principles that I have found helpful:
    • Judge ideas, not people.
    • Focus on solutions and ways forward; stay away from drama and problems.
    • Observations are more useful than opinions.
    • Let each person complete their thought; avoid interrupting.
    • Ask questions that illuminate, not interrogate.
    • Ask questions that are brief and to the point without adding background considerations and rationale, which make the question into a speech
    • Respect other people’s truths.
    • If you want your views to be heard speak now. Not later in backroom side conversations.
  2. Set the tone: Open the meeting by going around the room and asking everyone to respond to a soft but relevant question where there is no right or wrong answer. No one comments on what a person says, just respectfully listens. This helps to put people at ease, build personal connections, make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and get comfortable with listening.  I recently asked a group about  the most creative thing they had done outside of work in the past month. The answers were hilarious, and that laughter set a relaxing, collegial tone to dig into important issues.
  3. Set up what’s at risk: Frame the conversation by succinctly stating what’s at risk and why it’s so important to debate the issue and get everyone’s views.  This focuses the conversation and reminds people why it’s worth their time and honest input.
  4. Make sure you have enough time. Issues worthy of inquiry and debate usually require more than the typical one hour time allotment. One hour meetings are good for updates and touching base.  Strategic conversations where we value everyone’s involvement need more like three hours, maybe a even a day or more.
  5. Facilitate or use a facilitator.  Effective facilitators carefully listen, guide, inject good questions to open up new conversation veins, move people off dead horses, prevent any one person from hogging the conversation, help the group to recover if someone has said something hurtful, and adhere to the meeting agreements. If you are facilitating, know that it will be difficult to participate. As a participant you’re focused on the ideas not the meta conversation. Understand what role you’ll be playing, participant or facilitator.
  6. Ask the wind-down question. It usually gets to the real issues: About 30 minutes before the meeting is to end ask, “What hasn’t been said that should? Is there something you feel we’ve been avoiding?  If we never talked about this issue again, would you feel satisfied that we honestly examined all the important aspects of it? If not, what needs to be said?”  Inevitably someone speaks up and speaks the truth and the real conversation starts.
  7. Close with insights: After summarizing highlights and next steps, ask everyone to briefly respond to a closing question, which further respects views and makes sure voices are heard.  Possible closers might be:
  • How did your thinking on this issue shift?
  • What one thing did you find most useful from the discussion?
  • What was the high point of this discussion for you?

For more helpful ideas on facilitating healthy dissent, read Carmen’s post, “Advice for Managers: Do You Make It Easy for People to Disagree with You?”

Staying away from drama

Last month I  was in a board meeting that went off the rails.

The two-hour session devolved into conversations about personalities, systems limitations,  approval hold-ups by the legal department,  problems uncovered by market research, frustrations with the sales strategy, and a concluding “why do we keep talking about the same problems over and over?”

People left frustrated, exhausted and angry.  Not much of significance had been accomplished. Such a waste of time.

And no wonder. When conversations get pulled into the emotion of drama and problems our primitive brain takes over and shuts off our higher order intelligence, says Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence.   In other words, drama begets drama instead of any useful ideas on how to accomplish what’s at stake.

Interestingly I was in a recent academic meeting  focused on innovation and creativity that also fell into the rat hole of drama, problems, details, and more drama. Guess how creative and innovative that two hours turned out to be?

Quiet Leadership author David Rock suggests two practices that I find helpful.  Agree in meetings on where to focus the conversation: vision, planning, detail, problem and drama.  Wherever possible, keep all conversations focused on vision and planning. In this positive, low-anxiety mental state we’re better able to think fully and creatively

When you have to discuss detail, focus on one detail in a 10 minute chunk. After 10 minutes, we lose our ability to concentrate on that topic, says  John Medina, author of Brain Rules. “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, something must be done to regain attention and restart the clock.”

I see another opportunity in staying focused on the bigger picture: it is in this positive frame of mind that we’re more able to disagree in productive, creative ways.   Because  our minds are calmer and we’re focused on shared goals in this mindset, we’re able to  intellectually consider and discuss  alternatives.  There’s a higher order of thinking that’s possible during this mental state, say the neuroscientists.

Once we get into drama and pointing fingers at people and problems, dissent becomes dangerous and unhelpful.

Not to mention that there’s no emotional energy left for compassion or creativity.

I’ve taken a new professional vow: keep the meetings I’m in focused on solutions, and out of drama and problems.  Want to join me?

Storytelling needs a narrative

I’m kind of sick of everyone in business talking about storytelling.  It’s become a buzzword that people don’t truly understand or know how to use.

If you’re in marketing or corporate communications you’ve been in that strategy meeting where someone inevitably says, “We need to do more  storytelling.”

But most leaders, marketers and communicators don’t really know what to say when they’re told to “tell a story.”

“About what? To what end?,” many wonder. Others push back, “Oh, I don’t like telling stories about myself.”

Here’s my take.  Before telling useful stories,  organizations need a narrative, the reason for being.  The uber purpose.  The big picture context.  Then it becomes much easier for people to share anecdotes and stories that support  that narrative. More importantly, it helps the people —  citizens, employees, customers  — understand what’s important and  how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

A narrative is like a clothesline,  and you hang your policies from it, says David Gergen, communications adviser to four U.S. presidents. Similarly, companies hang its products and services from the clothesline.

Narratives are simple explanations.  You shouldn’t need training for people in the organization to “get it.” (A communications executive of a global company told me that his company has a narrative, but I’d have to read the PowerPoint deck to really understand it.  Sounds like there’s more work to do.)

Here are a few examples:

  • The narrative of the United States has been about exploring.  For Israel it’s protecting and defending.
  • For Nike it’s about serving and honoring the inner athlete.  Patagonia is about doing no harm to the environment.
  • Southwest Airlines’ makes it simple and fun to fly. FedEx absolutely, positively delivers the best customer experience.
  • My company’s narrative is about creating clarity from complexity.  The Rebels at Work movement is helping corporate rebels inside large organizations be more successful in creating positive change. An executive coach friend is about helping strong leaders become better people.

These narratives can be like North Stars — a fixed point in the sky that can be used to guide decisions, serve as a organizing prompt for telling relevant stories, open up thinking about new products or ways to work.

Narratives can also be a quest.  I like John Hagel’s view in this Forbes article:

Story chronicles the path and progress of a limited set of protagonists – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story arc.  Narratives, in contrast, are designed for a growing number of protagonists — many of whom are yet to be defined — who share a common quest or journey that is yet to be fully resolved or completed.

How do we find our narrative?

To help companies find their narrative, I invite people to think of their organization as a cause or movement and speed write a rallying cry, starting with a verb.  Or  quickly write many responses to the “I believe that ….” prompt about their organization or company. No over-thinking, self-editing or  corporate speak.  Just ideas, beliefs and aspiration, from the gut.

I’ve also been suggesting to marketing and corporate communications executives that they NOT make this a formal process.  Take some narrative possibilities and insert them into casual business conversations. Then into some presentations as a way of setting context to your ideas.  See how people react. Ask them, “Does this help you better understand our strategy?  Do you see how this new product line fits with our overall business?  Can you imagine how this policy falls outside of our focus?  Is this something you’d like to be part of?”

See how well the narrative serves you. If it works,  quietly seed it so it can grow and serve others without bringing in committees, copywriters, lawyers or naysayers.  Insert it into the CEO’s talking points.  Use it to frame the next acquisition or product launch.  If it helps, then make it better known and  part of the company’s leadership strategy.

And if it doesn’t resonate? Keep experimenting.

Finding a narrative gives your organization meaning.

And meaning changes everything.

 

Additional reading:

“Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief: Why the president lost his ability to tell a story,” by Matt Bai, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 11/4/2012.

“The Pull Narrative: In Search of Persistent Context” by John Hagel