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Leadership Storytelling

To Fire Up Employees and Please Your “Customers”– Tell Your Stories!

One of the top leadership challenges in this world of information overload is to cut through the clutter. More than 3,000 messages bombard each of us every day, and these constant distractions blur employees’ vision and distort their focus. Managers need to constantly remind employees of the company’s core values to keep them centered on the corporate mission. The message needs to be so clear that everyone in your organization understands your values and behaves accordingly.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for meeting this challenge. By continually telling stories that illustrate the organization’s values, everyone will be clear about where the organization is going and how each can contribute to, and benefit by, achieving the goals. The power of stories is that they captivate both the minds and the hearts of the people listening. Just as we all fondly remember family stories that we heard years ago, employees remember stories that their leaders tell them, and those stories become guides for carrying out their responsibilities.

For example, Jim Sinegal, co-founder, CEO and president of Costco Wholesale, regularly uses stories to convey Costco’s corporate values and to illustrate how those values are being brought to life throughout the company. One of his favorites is The Salmon Story.

It’s about a meat department buyer who, over a five-year period, was able to significantly improve the fresh salmon product while lowering the price significantly. The boneless, skinless, top salmon fillet now found in Costco meat departments is priced 20% less than the fresh salmon offered five years ago, which was not trimmed nearly as well.

Jim loves the Salmon Story because it exemplifies Costco’s core values-delivering value to customers through high quality products at low prices. This story also demonstrates the exceptional results that can be achieved by staying focused on the organization’s values.

The Salmon Story has become a Costco legend inside the company, as well as throughout the business world. (A contact at American Express told me recently, “Even I’ve heard that one!”)

For my upcoming book on Corporate Storytelling, I’m interviewing leaders of well-known, successful companies about how they use stories as a management tool. In addition to Costco, they include FedEx, Nike, The Container Store, 3M and Kinko’s, and I’ll be sharing some of those at the June 18 meeting.

In the meantime, be thinking about how you can employ storytelling more effectively in your company. What story can your company tell that will help to keep everyone focused on the corporate values-as well as your commitment to living by them? Share your thoughts with the people you work with–and most of all, tell your stories!

© Evelyn Clark, The Corporate Storyteller, is president of Clark & Company, a marketing communication firm in the Seattle area. A public relations practitioner with more than 20 years experience, she was accredited by the Public Relations Society of America in 1986. Her firm's services include facilitation of retreats and communication workshops, marketing and communication management, media relations strategy development, and media training.

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