One of the more effective tools an executive has in managing and motivating people is storytelling – sharing personal or professional experiences, insights and observations that provide context and direction to individuals and teams. Relevant stories can not only help in managing conflicts and addressing problems, but can influence and motivate people to do their best in an organization.
Storytelling can also be used to sell a corporate vision or rally people behind a complex technology objective or strategic goal, while eliminating any perceived boundaries that may exist between technology and business executives.
In a CIO Executive Council Power Hour webcast on the topic of storytelling as an executive tool, Executive Director of CIO Programs Maryfran Johnson spoke with Tiffany Snyder, CIO of the Animal Nutrition Enterprise at Cargill, Inc., a “farm to fork” organization that is the largest privately-heldfirm in the U.S., with food, agriculture, financial and industrial customers in more than 125 countries. She was joined by Gabby Nelson, Global Communications Lead at the company, who has been instrumental in establishing a successful storytelling program at Cargill.
Some key points from this engaging Power Hour discussion:
- While it may seem simple, storytelling is an effective and increasingly useful leadership capability. It’s about moving from your head to your heart and should be a routine part of communications since it provides a personal connection to things that are important to a company’s success and compels people to take part in that journey and success.
- The more authentic and personal the story the better. Relating someone else’s story doesn’t always come across and grab people’s attention as well telling one from your own personal experience. It carries more weight when you are the person inside that story and you tell it from your perspective.
- Present the big picture. Relate back to things that have been done and recount the “hero’s journey” everyone has been on. Paint a compelling picture of the future and how to get there. It’s less about the bits and pieces and things you’ve done along the way and more about the big story. The result is people are more willing to take that journey.
- Focus on the outcome and not just the facts. People love stories that show the direct connection of efforts – especially the impact on customers. They get a lot of energy from stories about outcomes. This inspires confidence in going for the next big thing, or even small things that can have a similar impact.
- Creating a storytelling culture starts at the top. A lot of people, especially IT people, may not be comfortable developing and telling stories and prefer just presenting the facts. It is important for leaders to raise that comfort level by telling their own stories and disseminating this approach throughout the organization. The goal is to eventually make it a natural part of the company’s culture.
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