What's Your Company Story?
By: Pamela Scott
Dave Hosokawa, former chief executive of the parent company of Monster.com, advises: If your customers and employees really understand what you are all about, you will succeed. You help your customers and employees do that by crafting and repeatedly tellingyour company story.
Your company story tells about your company, what you do for whom and why, with something about your people thrown in. It's more than just your vision andmission. It conveys your essence for being. It connects with people on an emotional level.
Why Do You Need a Story?
CEOs and company leaders often assume employees know the company story. They don't, necessarily. Neither do the customers. Sometimes the management team doesn't even really know the story.
Though they're handy, laminated vision and mission cards are often meaningless to employees and customers. They just contain words, often too many and too obtuse, without a context. They don't explain what the company is really all about, why someone would want to work there or why someone would want to be a customer.
People like to tell stories. They like to listen to them and repeat the good ones. What your company is all about needs to be a story every employee and customer can tell enthusiastically and without fail.
If you doubt that capacity, think about the company grapevine -- the quickest way stories circulate throughout your organization. The stories may not be accurate, but they get retold. Repeatedly.
By crafting and telling your company story, you can help employees know:--Where the company is going--What role they play in helping the company get there--Who the customers are--What their needs are
You can help customers understand how much you value them and are committed to them.
How to Create Your Story
The Company Story needs to cover three areas: company, customers and employees.
1. The Company
--Why does your company exist?
Start with your vision or mission statement, then take it a step further. Get away from the burdensome, tired language of many mission and vision statements. Say what's in your heart, not your brain, then take those values you espouse and create your story from there.
--Where is the company going?
Convey a sense of future accomplishments. Your story needs to define your strategies for getting to that future. Employees often complain that they don't know where their company is headed; they don't know what the CEO's strategies are. If an employee doesn't know that at a gut level, how can they help the company succeed and move forward?
2. The Customers
--Who are your customers?
This goes beyond the "small to medium-sized businesses producing customized widgets for the esoteric environment." Think about who your customers really are. How would they want to be known? Are they small to medium-sized businesses committed to helping companies develop safer aircraft? Or to make flying safer?
--Why do your customers buy from you and not your competitors?
Do you know what your customers really think? Have you asked them? Do families flock to Disneyworld because they like Mickey Mouse or because they know they will enjoy top-notch family-based entertainment in a safe and clean environment? Obviously, the answer is the latter -- and they're willing to pay top dollar for that experience.
3. The Employees
--Who are your employees?
Tell something about your employees. Why do they work at your company? What makes them come to work each day? Hopefully, the answer has to do with the quality of work experience, as opposed to "I need the money."
--How do your employees contribute to the company's customers and success?
One of your primary audiences for this story is your employees. Executives often assume Joe in the mailroom understands how he contributes to the company's success. But Joe may just feel he's pushing paper and routing packages. You need to help him understand how his timely and accurate handling of information ensures the company responds to customer requests and other needs on a timely basis. If Joe doesn't do his job well, vital information may get lost.
What about your receptionist? Sue may not realize she is your company's ambassador, the first person to interact with customers and potential customers. What value does Sue bring to the company?
As you create your story and work through these questions, you do not need to address each individual employee's contribution. Instead, create a message that will touch each person or group of people so they understand the value they bring to the company.
Key Ingredients for a Good Story
Stories work; they always have. Jesus used parables to teach key points. The ancients told epics to convey history and the battles between good and evil.Today, movies and other art forms tell our stories.
In his book "Managing by Storying Around," David Armstrong promotes storytelling as an effective way to make you a better manager. According to Armstrong, storytelling is:--Simple--Timeless--An excellent way to pass along corporate traditions--Empowering--A great form of recognition--Fun--Useful for recruiting and hiring--Great for making sales--Memorable
If you stick to those guidelines, you will succeed.
Other tips for creating a great story:--Use metaphors. People relate to metaphors. A metaphor can convey a complicated message in a simple way. For example, a company's complex production process could be compared to making a soufflé: each step must be exact and on time or the soufflé will fall.--Focus on people. Your audience for this story includes your customers and your employees. People want to hear about people.--Personify your company. Create a character that represents what your company stands for and does. For example, a traditional law office might be presented as The Judge, an upright individual who honors the law. From there, you can create The Judge's character.--Keep the language simple. Use plain English and active verbs. Don't rely on the dry, multisyllable words you use at the office. Check the readability level of your story by running it through the grammar check on your word-processing software. You want your story to have a readability level of at least 65 on the Flesch Reading Ease scale or to be at the 8th grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale.--Appeal to the senses. Research into neurolinguistic programming, how we think and communicate, has found that people react unconsciously to messages that touch on how we see, hear, or feel things. Ensure your story includes words that address each of those senses.--Build in enthusiasm and energy. Too many workplaces today lack those qualities.--Keep it fairly short. Even a good story can lose listeners if it goes on too long. Edit your story to make it tight, concise and effective
How to Communicate Your Story
The CEO is the primary storyteller. In their book "Funky Business," Jonas Ridderstråle and Kjell Nordström write that the true leaders are CSOs -- Chief Storytelling Officers. CSOs should tell the story everywhere and all the time, at every company event, at every customer event, at any event anywhere.
Employees who can tell the story can serve as ambassadors for the company, as well as salespeople. The same goes for customers. As Hosokawa said, if your customers and employees really understand what you are all about, you will succeed.
Copyright (c) 2008 Pamela Scott
Pam Scott is CEO of Armstrong Scott Inc., the expert in communication and leadership for the engineering world. Her passion lies in helping individuals with interpersonal communications and helping companies with strategic communications. Go to http://www.weknowengineers.com/optin/index.htm to get the FREE report "How to Master the Art of Managing People."
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