How Simple Stories can deliver Super Results
At some point in my childhood, it was concluded that I was not “the creative one” in my family. That label was assigned elsewhere and the label I was given, and accepted, was to be “the academic one”. Not considering myself creative, I would have been amazed if I had known that I would grow up to be someone who runs workshops on how storytelling can deliver results.
When I run those workshops, there are people who are amazed when they find themselves telling stories and using them to make things happen. Because they never imagined themselves as creative speakers either.
The thing about stories is that they can be very simple things and we are designed to be storytellers. Every time we talk about what we did at the weekend, every time we have a little gossip about our family, friends and colleagues, we are sharing stories. When we share stories, we are influencing others – sometimes those stories change our thinking, sometimes they help us to understand and accept new ideas. My workshops build on that ability, here I would like to share 4 simple techniques to get results.
- The values story
We all have values and many companies have stated values that they look to their people to live by. Most companies state those values, almost preach them and expect people to live by them. And in so many companies the values that show up in reality, don’t match the stated values at all. For one client of mine, they said they placed great store by being commercial in their thinking, but actually when it got tough, they tended to make emotional decisions instead.
How can you influence people to live values in a particular way? Well you can ask people to talk about a time when they experienced someone living one of those stated values. You can ask them to speak in groups, in pairs or to write it down on their own. I did this once with a group, asking them about the value of “service”. Lots of people in the same department came up with the same person as their example – it was a really powerful moment when they realised they had a perfect role model in their group already. It made it much easier for them to connect with that way of operating.
- The “what went well” story
When I am running projects, I can get a bit focussed on being clear on where we are with the things we need to deliver – whether we are on time or the work done is good enough, or on budget. In team meetings, I have tended to be practical and in my view, objective, about getting to the bottom of these things. The thing I have realised is that not being on track can make team members feel defensive and vulnerable, and that a team that feels like that tends to be miserable and unproductive.
Happily for me and the teams I lead, I found a technique by psychologist Martin Seligman called “What Went Well”. At the end of every team meeting, I ask participants to describe something that went well over the past few days, the role they played in making that thing go well, and the impact on others. For something so simple, it is surprisingly effective. People feel valued and they get an emotional boost from focussing on something they have achieved, something of value to others When I added this technique into my team meetings, the atmosphere around my projects changed, and so did our level of success.
- The “look back in pride” story
Lots of organisations and teams are forced to go through change. External pressures in the economy, changed strategies internally leads to people having change thrust upon them. It is common, and perfectly natural, for people to question and challenge change – it takes time and hard work to come to terms with it, no matter how logical the need might be.
Before they are ready to move forward, it really helps to look back in pride. I ask people in workshops to tell stories to celebrate what was successful about their past. This helps us to recognise what makes us strong, what gives us a solid foundation upon which to build the changes to come. I worked with a client that had an amazing track record of customer service, and all of the people in the workshops I ran felt really passionate about that track record. Exploring that made them feel ready for whatever came their way, and committed to making sure the customer was at the heart of whatever they did next
- The premortem story
It is our nature to do post-mortems. To look back in time and look at the things that happened and how they led to us being here. Those stories can have power for sure and we can learn from them but I love premortem stories even more.
When we do a premortem, we project ourselves to the future and believe that our goal, whatever it is, has come true already. Then we look back from that future time and tell the story of how we got to that future. We share the successes, the failures and the path that got us there. And having imagined it, it sets the scene for us to take that route with courage, because in our minds, we have already achieved it. This is even more powerful if it is done with groups of people who are working together on a goal, because then they get a shared experience of that imagined journey.
Simple Stories, Super Results
It still amazes me sometimes that simple stories like these can deliver results. Such simple stories about people who live values, about what we achieved for others, what we have done in the past and what we imagine for the future. These stories get into our minds and they influence how we think, how we feel. American writer Maya Angelou had it so right “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. These stories we tell, they change how we feel. And when we change how we feel, we can make new things happen.