I had a great day on Tuesday exploring a Community of Practice that has formed within a NSW local government council. This group call themselves the green champions and 40 representatives across the council participate to make sustainability an integral part of every staff member's daily activities. The aim is to 'show by doing'.
Some of the reasons it works: the CEO and elected leader openly advocate the group and provide legitimacy for its activities. This encourages managers to support the involvement of their staff. There is a small core group that work to tap into and unleash the Green Champions' passion for sustainability. Members of the group spoke about how the Green Champions allows them to make a difference, how they learn about sustainability and can take that home and into their personal lives (such as the school sustainability committee). Some of them have the opportunity to apply their formal qualifications in water, waste, energy management etc. Members described some of the key success factors as the informal nature of the group, how it can avoid some of the internal red tape to get things done, their opportunity to contribute ideas and see them actioned and how every area of the business is represented. The group like it that they are a little edgy and can push the boundaries to get things done.
An example of how the group makes a difference:
earlier this year the group conducted a 'Switch-off Blitz'. After hours, the group assembled and went through every floor and checked every workstation to check computers, and monitors, were switched off. Everyone who had done the right thing were rewarded with a note from the "green ninja" saying well done and a block of fair trade chocolate. Those who have not switched off their computers properly received a note saying, "no chocolate for you, the green ninja is not happy". The energy monitoring system recorded a significant drop in energy consumption following the switch off blitz which has been maintained. It's a great example of how the informal system can make a difference. It was inspiring to see this group in action.
Last night I started reading Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. I highlighted a phrase in the introduction that really stood out for me. This morning I was looking through my notebook and came across notes from a conversation I had with Shawn on 19 March this year after he had read the same book. The note contained the same phrase I had highlighted last night. I wanted to share this piece of serendipity with you.
The paragraph in question was about the leaders they had worked with who were successful in implementing real and lasting change and the point noted by both Shawn and I was:
...all [these leaders] shared on thing in common...a deep and abiding recognition that their people bring their humanity to work with them every single day; that the absolute division between the work realm and the personal realm is naive and unhelpful; and that 21st Century leaders must find a more effective way to engage the emotional lives of their organisations and their leadership teams.
Filed in Business storytelling.
When you go hunting for a story, for say a presentation you're about to give, you're taking something that normally lives and breathes in an informal environment and transporting it to a more formal organisational setting. It's OK to do this of course as long as you understand what this beast is like in its natural setting. Don't take a tiger and put it in a concrete cage. It's inhumane. Instead add the right foliage, give it plenty of water to play in and lots of room to move. It wont be exactly the same as seeing that tiger in the wild but you will be able to appreciate its beauty.
What do stories in the wild look like?
Imagine you've caught up with some work friends and a manager has been giving you a hard time. Today he waltzed over to your cubicle and announced to you and everyone else who could hear it that your missed your targets. You tell this story and your friends listen and respond by showing sympathy and then they start to analyse his motives and what he might do next. You start talking about what you should do and you tell another story of what you did in the past and how that turned out. Your friends help you interpret that experience and recount their own stories.
It's improv, messy, it flows, you move back and forth between story and interpretation and no one notices. No one (except story geeks like me) is thinking, wow look at the stories that are being told and how it's such a social process. It's invisible to us.
Now contrast that with how we use stories in a business setting. You might start by thinking, "I have a presentation I need to give next week to my staff and while they're doing pretty well I'd love to inspire them to even higher performance. I know stories are powerful. I wonder if I can find a story that's inspirational and relevant? Let's have a look at all my business books. They're packed with stories. Beauty, got one. OK, I can tell this. I'm all set for next week.
Did you see what's missing? When we take our stories out of the informal setting we can lose the back and forth interpretation that comes from our colleagues. This chit chat is how we make sense of our experiences (as told as stories). So when we use stories formally we need to put back the chit chat.
Mark and I do this all the time. For instance, just today Mark called and launched straight into a story. I knew immediately he was giving a story a test run (I hope he retells it in full here). It was about a CEO who was trying to explain why his company had changed strategy and this CEO was having problems convincing his audience. At the end of the story Mark says, "so, what do you think that story was about?" I told him and my interpretation was different to Mark's. Mark felt the story was about the difficulty the CEO was having convincing his audience. I said if that's the case, and we both agreed there were lots of possible points to this story, Mark needed to expand that part of the story.
Our conversation brought back some informality, and interpretation, to the storytelling process but with the view of telling this story in more formal circumstances.
For change to stick it's often a good idea to find where things are working and then figure out how to get those successful behaviours happening where you need them.
I often tell this story, which I've read in Switch, to illustrate this positive approach to change.
In the 1990s Vietnam faced a terrible problem: many children in their country were malnourished. The government approached Jerry Sternin, who was as the time working for Save the Children in the USA, to set up an office in Vietnam. Jerry moved his family to Vietnam but when he arrived he discovered that not everyone in the government appreciated his presence. He was told by his sponsor in the Foreign Affairs department that we had 6 months to make a difference.
Now Jerry had read the research and it was clear that big issues such as poverty and water cleanliness were major factors. Jerry put these findings into a bucket he called "true but useless." He wasn't about to change poverty or how clean Vietnam's water was. Instead he embarked on finding examples where things were working.
Jerry set off to visit villages across the country. He asked people whether they knew of families who had children of a healthy weight even though they had access to the same resources as everyone else. And the answer was invariably 'yes.' They all seem to know of some families where the kids were doing much better than most. So he visited these families and observed how the mothers fed their children. Over time a pattern emerged. Mothers of children with a healthy weight did four things differently from the rest.
First they fed their children four times a day instead of twice, which was the norm. It was the same amount of food but spread over four meals.
Second the mothers were proactive in feeding the food to their children. Shovelling the food into their mouths instead of setting it in front of them to let them feed themselves.
Third they went to the rice paddies and caught shrimps and and tiny crabs and put them in their children's food.
And finally they scrounged up other vegetables and added them to the meals.
What happens next illustrates Jerry Sternin's genius. Instead of racing down the street screaming eureka and advocating everyone with malnourished kids adopt these four behaviours (who adopts ideas from strange foreigners anyway?) Sternin identifies 50 families in 14 villages who could benefit and then takes groups of 10 mothers to cook with the mothers with the healthy kids. They practice together and learn a new way of behaving.
After 6 months 65% of the children were better nourished and stayed that way. Throughout the 90s this approach benefited 2.2 million children in 265 villages and became the standard approach to remedy child malnutrition in Vietnam.
People know us as the story guys and as more and more people realise that it's effective to include stories in their presentations the number of requests we get to suggest business related stories have gone up. Since we started the Anecdote blog we've used a specific category whenever a blog post includes a story: Anecdotes. There are now 120 posts in that category and each post might have multiple anecdotes. So lots of stories to peruse.
So today we introduce The Story Finder
We are hoping this will make it easy for you to find stories that you can use in your presentations. Pass the message on to your colleagues if you find this resource useful.
We will continue to add great stories wherever we find them.
Filed in Changing behaviour.
Just in case you haven't seen this animation it's worth the 10 minutes to learn about Dan Pink's findings on what really motivates us.
Last month Bob Sutton wrote a post listing the important mindsets of a good manager. It got me thinking about the important mindsets for a good mentor. Here's my top 10.
- You really care about the person you're mentoring. You want them to succeed.
- You're curious and intensely interested in them as a person
- You're not competing with them
- You don't have all the answers and know you don't need to
- They can solve many of their own issues
- Your the facilitator, not the expert
- In most cases there's no single right answer
- It's better to engage in dialogue than lecture
- A good question is often better than a good answer
- Trust is essential. It takes time and effort to build and can evaporate in an instance. TRUST = (credibility + reliability + intimacy) / self interest
What mindsets would you add?
Thanks to Christian Dahmen for a excellent conversation last week that helped me write this list.
Filed in Changing behaviour.
Are you tired of reading blog posts? For a change how about just listening about storytelling? Makes sense really.
I recorded this podcast for a group of executives in New York and thought you might also enjoy it. It describes why I think storytelling is an important leadership skills, why stories have impact, provides a couple of tips on becoming a better storyteller, describes what we mean by strategic stories and shows how story work can be much more than merely telling tales.
Here's the link to the audio file.