The Corporate Storyteller

Expert tips on management communications and the power of storytelling

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


A Powerful Story of Values-Driven Leadership

George Russell, whose grandfather founded Russell Investments (now a part of Northwestern Mutual), a global investment company with $140 billion in assets under management, has always been guided a core set of values that drives daily decisions. In Success by Ten, a book Russell co-authored, he discusses the top ten values he embraces, the most important one being "non-negotiable integrity."

In a blog by Russell's co-author, Michael Sheldon describes Russell's use of storytelling as a means of driving home this higheset value, in particular, to employees. Russell demonstrates his commitment to integrity by telling employees that an employee who makes an honest mistake will be corrected and forgiven; but an employee who intentionally operates with a lack of integrity will be fired on the spot.

Explaining that you have to demonstrate what you believe, not simply talk about it, Russell early on in his career with the company followed through with his warning and fired an employee as soon as the person was discovered to have been unethical. He then told the story about the incident to ensure everyone in the organization knew that he meant what he said. He only needed to tell the story a couple of times, Russell says, because "word gets around, and people understand what's expected of them."

Top leaders know that stories work! Are you underscoring your values by demonstrating what you want--and consistently telling about it?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Telling Your Story to Various Audiences

Regardless of your political views, Meg Whitman's campaign for governor of California is a clear example of how to tell your story to different audiences. Changing the medium to grab the attention of each key audience across the state, Whitman's campaign messaging also speaks each group's language--literally in some areas. Some campaign materials are written in other languages and favorite colors of different ethnic groups to reach large Spanish-speaking and Asian populations, and the media chosen include, as other recent campaigns have, mobile devices and social media to reach young voters.

For those of you who wonder what I mean when I say you need to adapt your story to appeal to top-of-mind issue among each audience, I strongly advise you to study the campaign's approach. Whether the Republican candidate overcomes considerably odds in a Democratic state to win the election, her messaging strategy could become a classic case study on targeted communications.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Google's Success Story Partially Due to Long-Term Focus

Driven by the expectation that they meet analysts' quarterly forecasts for stock performance, many U.S. companies have focused so much on the short term that they neglect opportunities to develop products and services to meet future demands. Not so Google, according to a recent AP story.

As the manager of Discern Analytics observes, "Everywhere you look in this country, it seems that we are suffering from the consequences of too much short-term thinking." Silicon Valley's Paul Saffo continues, "Google doesn't have this disease. It is one of the few lone bright that regard."

While some of Google's decisions are puzzling, the wise strategy behind them becomes apparent in time. Google offered free e-mail with lots of capacity in 2004, which seemed odd at the time, and then followed that move with acquisition of a digital mapping service, which eventually made Google the "go-to" place for driving directions. More recently, the company created the free mobile-operation system, Android, that now powers millions of phones.

Kudos to Google's leadership team, whose commitment to transparency means that they announce their moves even though they know the world is unlikely to understand and appreciate their decisions initially. It seems other companies would do well to follow the sometimes puzzling example of visionary leadership that Google clearly exemplifies.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


IDEO Recommends Stories for Designers

In a recent series of articles for Fast Company, IDEO offered tips to design professionals on using stories to support their design work as well as their clients' products. I couldn't agree more that stories and branding go together. In fact, I often describe my Corporate Storytelling system as a right-brain approach to brand development.

Here are the four tips on story development that IDEO offered in the article:
1. Share what you care about. (How might design authentically express values to attract like-minded consumers?)
2. Empower people to make it their own. (How might we encourage consumers to participate by telling their own stories?)
3. Localize. (How might we speak to community to provide deeper meaning and connection in an increasingly commoditized world?)
4. Be discriminating. (How might we identify the key aspects of design that connect to the story's focus?)

What stories do you use to describe your business and the way you enact your values?


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