The Corporate Storyteller

Expert tips on management communications and the power of storytelling

Monday, January 31, 2011


Executive Turnover on the Upswing

Turnover in the executive suite is on the upswing, according to a study conducted in 2010 by Rice University. The key factor that drove the 11% rise in turnover was the lack of in-depth knowledge of the organizational culture.

This finding indicates that top leaders, who serve as the models for the company's workforce, need to be immersed in cultural values and familiarized with how they are to be enacted. Corporate storytelling would be a key component of such training, best offered by insiders or long-time consultants who know the orgnaization intimately.

What's your experience with storytelling training for new C-level executives?

Friday, January 28, 2011


What's Your Corporate Story for 2011?

As the end of the first month of 2011 approaches, you should have put the finishing touches on your plan for the year and put it into action. A crucial element of that plan should be a refreshed corporate story, adjusted, if necessary to address changes in your market and concerns that are topmost on your customers' and clients' minds.

If you haven't refined your story specifically to drive your organization forward in the new environment, you may find it helpful to visit my website, where we list a set of central questions to guide you:

If you'd like to dive deeper into corporate storytelling, a facilitated workshop, online training, or one-on-one coaching can be arranged.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Corporate Storytelling Includes Tales that Honor Your History

A special event at Seattle's Museum of Flight recently honored icons of The Boeing Company's history, who shared stories about their adventures in building what for many years was the anchor business for the city.

Bill Boeing, Jr., talked about the company's famous Red Barn, the original building where Boeing manufactured planes. Credited with saving, moving and restoring the barn, Bill Jr. recalled that the Museum of Flight bought the barn "for $10 and other valuable considerations" and has been "spending on it ever since," as reported by Patti Payne in her column for the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The barn now resides at Boeing Field after serving as a, uh, "wing" of the Museum of Flight for years. In similar fashion, Nike displays the original waffle iron that inspired Bill Bowerman to design the iconic waffle-soled running shoes. What items symbolize your company's culture? How can you mine the opportunities they offer to breathe life into a rich history that will inspire employees and customers alike?

Monday, January 24, 2011


How Leaderse Develop Spirit of Volunteerism, Part II

We've been discussing the competitive advantage of fostering a spirit of volunteerism among an organization's workforce. In our last post on January 21, we described the first three steps a leader can take to develop a fully engaged workforce that willingly volunteers for work above and beyond the call of duty.

Here are the three remaining ways, according to a recent article in the Washington Post:

4. Take time to think of the times in your life when you've been inspired to volunteer and note your motivations (and, I would add, note the results as well).

5. If you aren't fully engaged in your current position, determine why not and, if necessary, start looking for opportunities with other emploeyrs that would be more fulfilling.

6. Determine to re-orient your own work approach and your leadership philosophy so that you and all your employees will be fully engaged--to the point of being willing volunteer!

Remember that sharing stories of your most fulfilling, meaningful, instructive and/or fun work experiences will help you through all these steps and produce the results you want.

Friday, January 21, 2011


How Leaders Develop Spirit of Volunteerism

Combining Southwest Airlines' management philosophy with the late Peter Drucker's belief that leaders should always think of their employees as volunteers, a recent Washington Post article offers a series of steps to help leaders foster a spirit of volunteerism among employees.

Here are the first three:

1. Communicate your mission and values clearly so that each employee understands how s/he fits in and can contribute to reaching goals

2. Focus more attention and resources on employee training and development, taking care to praise and reward the behavior you want

3. Make the effort to get to know your direct-reports and other employees as individuals and encourage other managers to do the same

My addition: Remember that storytelling is a highly effective communication tool that will support your effortss with all three of these critical steps. We'll cover the remaining three steps in the next post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Mission and Values Drive Employee Volunteerism

Why in the world do employees willingly volunteer for extra work, especially after their normal shift is over? According to a recent Washington Post article reporting on a presentation by former Southwest Airlines CEO Jim Parker, it's because employees "believe in the organization's mission and values; believe that their work matters; respect, and may even like their bosses and co-workers."

As you'll notice, these are the same reasons, the article points out, that people volunteer to help at their churches, local social service agencies, or their children's schools and/or sports organizations. By keeping this in mind--and remembering that most people really do want to contribute their best effort to any cause--you can be a more effective leader with happier, more satisfied employees as well as better-served customers.

Monday, January 17, 2011


When Employees Volunteer, Service Soars

What difference does it make when a company's employees volunteer for tasks that are above and beyond the call of duty? Here are some examples from Southwest Airlines:

1. Off-duty flight attendants and pilots help serve beverages during flights
2. Off-duty personnel also help service planes on the ground
3. A gate agent puts extra effort into personally returning a passenger's lost Blackberry

What difference does it make when employees "go the extra mile"? In the first two examples, employees who pitch in enable Southwest to turn around their plans faster, making better use of the lines' most costly equipment and leveraging time spent in flight earning revenues. In all three cases, the personal, one-to-one customer service wins and solidifies customer loyalty.

How can you inspire your employees to look for ways they can help thier organization without being asked? What do you envision the benefits to be?

Friday, January 14, 2011


Highly Effective Leaders Foster Volunteerism

Do your employees have a spirit of volunteerism--or do they do only as much as necessary to "succeed" in their jobs? A recent Washington Post article describes the volunteer spirit fostered by Southwest Airlines' management philosophy, which produces more engaged employees and a stronger bottom line.

Building on the "fun" approach to leadership established by Southwest founder Herb Kelleher, Southwest's succeeding leaders have inspired people to give all they've got to their jobs--not because they have to, but because they want to. Ever-increasing global competition (as well as economic challenges across the U.S. and around the world) are increasing the need to make the most of an organization's resources. As the article points out, an engaged workforce is an intangible asset that can be the competitive advantage that sets one company above the rest.

How do you engage your employees? Are they willing "volunteers"? We'll discuss more about Southwest's approach to management in future posts, and we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Listening Crucial to Successful Leadership

Listening is an often-overlooked part of communication that gets far less attention than the telling part. In the view of CEO Greg Blatt, listening also is a crucial to successful leadership.

Blatt says in an interview with Fast Company that "passion and conviction are two of the most important tools of success, and yet they both need to be tempered by listening." This is a lesson he learned from working with Martha Stewart Living and also with Barry Diller's IAC, which Blatt will be heading soon.

"You can let your convictions, passion, and vision get in the way of the facts. Yet knowing how to combine those things is really the key to success."

How about you? Do you seek out others' views--and listen carefully to them--before making key decisions? How has that practice made a difference?

Friday, January 07, 2011


Asking "Why?" Leads to Success

The CEO of, soon to be the head of parent company IAC, believes his greatest strength is "taking nothing for granted" and always asking "Why?" when he evaluates how an organization does what it does. Greg Blatt says that that often managers can't give a reason why they do things a certain way, and by continually asking the question, the "how" often changes for the better.

In an earlier post (11/12/10), we talked about the importance of telling the "why" of a company's story to drive home the unique character that forges a strong brand and guides the vision. Asking "Why?" is just as important as sharing the answer when it's clearly defined.

When have you discovered gems of insight by asking "Why?" We'd love to hear your stories!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Leaders Innovate

Innovation is always an important aspect of leadership, but in today's climate it's essential. All our assumptions about what business we're in and how to best serve customers and clients need to be seriously questioned as more and more business moves online and customer expectations shift dramatically.

Every organization needs not only to rethink what they've been doing and how they've been doing it--but also to ask basic questions as though they're starting from square one. To do that requires doing something that many, if not most, business leaders feel they can afford to do: take time to step away from the day-to-day demands of running the business and look at the company from a fresh perspective.

For guidance on how to rethink your business, consider the four steps of innovation outlined by noted innovator Warren Berger as described in his first article of a series for Fast Company. Read it at


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