Use the 3 Elements of a Good Story to Lead With Power

The Power of Story

When I was growing up, I spent many weekends camping with my Boy Scout Troop in pursuit of my Eagle Scout badge. One thing I remember about those trips was the campfires and the stories we told. From the scary to the hilarious, those stories created an environment as we entertained each other. No devices, no distractions, just stories.

We may live in a different time, but the power of story remains an important part of memory, of persuasion, and of leadership.

A few months ago, we spotlighted Procter & Gamble executive Paul Smith, who is now a speaker and trainer on storytelling techniques. His latest book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale is a powerful reminder of the power of story.

After our written interview, I met with him in person to continue our conversation.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

 

We discuss the 3 elements of a great story:

Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way for Exceptional Results

Align Your Organization to Create Exceptional Results

 

How do leaders align and engage a workforce in the midst of uncertainty?

 

Authors Kay Kendall and Glenn Bodinson are expert Baldrige coaches. They studied more than two dozen organizations that delivered exceptional results following the Baldrige Criteria, key principles derived and championed by Malcolm Baldrige in the mid-1980s to improve productivity and competitiveness. Their research was supplemented by talking with more than fifty CEOs to gain insights on performance excellence. I recently asked them about their work and their new book, Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way.

 

Disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism.

 

What do readers, who may not know Malcolm Baldrige, need to know before picking up your book? How will studying the Malcolm Baldrige Way help business leaders?

Malcolm Baldrige was a very successful businessman before Ronald Reagan tapped him to be Secretary of Commerce.  He was deeply concerned about the future of manufacturing in America.  At that time, the 80s, Japan was dominating in the automotive and electronics manufacturing industries.  Both of those industries – and others in America – were being plagued by poor quality, and consumers were making choices to go with Japanese products.  Secretary Baldrige championed an effort to establish a presidential award based on rigorous standards that would recognize manufacturing and service organizations that achieved high levels of performance.  After Baldrige’s untimely death, President Reagan decided to honor his friend with what became known as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  Studying Leading the Malcolm Baldrige Way will help business leaders in any industry, in any situation – flourishing or in peril – learn how to align their employees to deliver exceptional results.

 

Why Engagement Matters

To those who think culture is soft, what statistics can you share that demonstrate engagement matters?

Leading the Malcolm Baldrige WayOne study showed that companies with high levels of employee engagement have five times higher shareholder returns over five years.  There is also clear evidence that engaged employees create loyal customers.  If that isn’t compelling, consider the flip-side of engagement.  Statistics from a recent article in Harvard Business Review cited, “Disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects.  In organizations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.” Those are staggering costs for organizations.

 

 

Engagement is the rage these days in leadership circles, yet still many leaders don’t work on engagement. Why is this?

Honestly, we don’t understand it.  The evidence that engagement matters and impacts bottom-line results is clear.   There is also the notion that treating employees as valued assets is what leaders as decent human beings ought to do.  In the latest recession, we saw a lot of leaders with an attitude of “My employees should be grateful just to have a job.”  As the economy picked up, we saw many employees jump ship as soon as there were opportunities to work for an organization with a better culture, where they were treated as valuable contributors to the mission and vision.

 

Research: Companies with engaged workers report 6% higher profits.

 

Don’t Make Excuses

12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

The Secret to Higher Profits in a Digitized World

The Decline of Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is going down, not up.

How can that be in a world with unprecedented technological progress?

 

“A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, and the off strategy.” –Scott Bedbury

 

Tema Frank founded Web Mystery Shoppers International, the world’s first company to test omnichannel customer service. Her new book, People Shock: The Path to Profits When Customers Rule , shows off both her decades of business experience and the research from interviewing over 150 business leaders. She developed a formula to help businesses improve the customer experience in the midst of a digitized world.

I recently asked her about her research.

 

“The key to getting work done on time is to stop wearing a watch.” –Ricard Semler

 

What is PeopleShock?

As we automate more and artificial intelligence wipes out jobs, the smaller amount that is left for human to human interaction becomes critical. Companies that are people-focused (while using technology to support those people) are the ones that will win in an era of increasing competition and social media power. If you get the people side right, PeopleShock is your key to success. Ignore it and your company will soon be history.

 

“If you’re too busy to build good systems, then you’ll always be too busy.” –Brian Logue

 

Get the 3Ps of Profit Right

Please share your 3P Profit Formula with our audience.

Customers are cranky, and they’ve got more choices than ever before. So you’ve got to keep them happy, and that means getting all of the 3 Ps of Profit right:

Promise – Having a clear aspirational, inspirational and memorable reason for doing what you do inspires staff and customers. It also gives staff a filter for decision-making: Would their action be consistent with the company’s promise?

People – Business success comes from connecting effectively at a human level with people inside (staff) and outside your organization. Outsiders include not only prospects and customers, but people we sometimes overlook, like suppliers, distributors, lenders, investors, media and the public.

Process – As time goes by, some of the processes that got you to where you are stop making sense.  To deliver consistently great customer experiences, you have to regularly re-assess how you’ve been doing things. Start by looking at processes from a customer point of view. What do they experience? Then look at how that lines up with what you do internally.

 

“CEOs are the ones who must conduct the corporate orchestra.” –Tema Frank

 

How does this translate into higher profits?

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

 

It All Starts With Safety

Author and speaker Simon Sinek is a gifted storyteller. In this talk, Simon zeroes in on an often overlooked aspect of leadership: safety.

Simon recounts the story of an ambush and its powerful lesson. When Army Captain William Swenson and his men were under heavy fire in Afghanistan, it was all caught on camera. As Swenson is seen helping an injured soldier onto a helicopter, you see Swenson lean over and kiss the injured soldier’s forehead before running back into a battle.

 

“Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” –Simon Sinek

 

Build a Culture That Encourages Selflessness

Why did he do this? Sinek’s first hypothesis was that the military somehow attracted selfless people. After further investigation, Sinek concluded it was the environment that elevated behavior. The culture and values of the organization were strong enough to encourage selflessness.

We will put our lives at risk to save others because of trust. That means that trust increases safety. When we feel safe, we are empowered. When we are not acting under threat, we are able to give our best, to be more creative, to be more productive. More trust = more safety = more productivity and creativity. It’s a formula that all leaders should study.

Trust and safety may be difficult to measure, but they are essential for optimal performance.

 

“Good leaders make you feel safe.” –Simon Sinek

 

Without safety, instead of focusing on outside threats, we are turned inside. When we feel safe, we are able to work together for a common cause and fulfill the leader’s vision.