Business Storytelling

By July 24, 2017 No Comments

Jim and I have built our business as disciples of the “business storytelling” concept. Our heroes include storytellers such as Donald Miller, Andy Goodman, Peg Newhauser, and Anna Deaver Smith.

There’s a saying that if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. We would argue, though, that storytelling is, in fact, a super-gargantuan hammer, capable of solving the largest problems.

And we’re not the only ones, Peg Neuhouser says most conflict that surfaces in the workplace is based on miscommunication between our “tribe” members. Too often your business culture defaults to a system of checking boxes (of both the real and figurative variety) and measuring employees’ and peers’ adherence to these boxes. This occurs at the expense of discovering, cultivating, and learning to tell the stories that make your business interesting, unique, and relevant.

How do you change that culture? Listen around the office.

  • What types of stories are people telling?
  • What problems does your business solve on a regular basis?
  • What anecdotes do you have from clients or prospects about your business? (Hint: This, in particular, is GOLD)
  • Or, are people disproportionately complaining about each other or about clients? (Hint, this is POISON)
  • What is missing from your story bank?
  • What are the common denominators to your success stories?
  • Who in your office is particularly good at telling your business’s stories?

I want to be clear. Accountability is critical to a business’s success as are performance metrics. But too often, people and businesses try to fix a system or create a metric and expect that to become your elixir. Invariably, that won’t work.

Instead, try this as an exercise. Get a group together within your office, spend 15 or 20 minutes introducing the idea of storytelling, and then get to work on finding the unique stories within your enterprise that make you special. In the spirit of good brainstorming, don’t let cynicism creep in (that can happen easily) – there are no bad ideas in this exercise. Re-assemble after a week or two and share what stories you’ve come up with.

As a guide, here are the types of stories for which you should be on the lookout:

  • “Hero Stories.” The “main character” has done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience, even if that person does not survive every battle (Hint: Your main character is typically a client).
  • “Survivor Stories.” “Everything possible went wrong and then we fixed it.” These are the stories that resonate with clients—the humility to acknowledge that sometimes mistakes and problems surface, but here’s how our team solves such problems.
  • “Steam-Valve Stories.” When did the pressure build up to such a point in your business that there were massive problems around every corner, complaints spewing into the atmosphere? Such moments are cathartic, revealing a business’s or team’s ability to learn from its worst moments.
  • “Aren’t We Great Stories.” These are stories that typically come straight out of the mouths of clients. Look for the anti-thesis as well in your search, those things that clients complained about. When you know what irks clients, you’ll have a better idea how to thrill them in the future.
  • “We Know the Ropes around Here Stories.” A favorite of the naysayer and the venom to business culture. One antidote? Take these stories as constructive criticism and ask your team to develop stories and solutions that focus on clients and prospects rather than on internal systems and personnel.
  • Kick in the Pants Stories.” It’s when reality finally kicked in for your business. It’s when you realized a single problem was preventing progress, when you found the light switch and stopped venturing around in the dark.
  • “The Hilarious Stories.” These also are gold. None of the NSFW variety, of course, but when you have funny stories to incorporate into your business’s narrative, it shows humility, creativity, and a level of confidence that will connect and impress your clients.

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