This video from GE is a nice example of how to engage employees in increasing operational efficiency, saving money and lessening a company’s impact on the environment. Doesn’t sound that interesting, does it? That’s the challenge. So let’s look at it from a slightly different angle. Supposing we treat it as a kind of treasure hunt?
Adam Westbrook has written and provocative piece about why it’s time to rethink visual storytelling on the Web from the bottom up.
He argues that too much web video is produced as if it were to be viewed in a cinema. On the one hand, the Web is a very different environment to which people come with very different expectations and mindsets. For another, it’s a very different medium - essentially interactive and participatory rather than broadcast.
It reminded us of recurring conversations we have with clients about the essential differences between a presentation and a report. And the dangers of trying to produce a hybrid ‘document’ that works well as neither.
The biggest challenge we face is that we haven’t figured out how to use this medium properly yet. That’s a privilege not enjoyed since the invention of cinema.
Whatever we invent must be grounded in the universal principles of visual storytelling, while embracing the true nature of the internet.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE. BUT I KNOW IT DOESN’T LOOK EXACTLY LIKE CINEMA OR TELEVISION.
Do take a look at The Web Video Problem, not least for its elegant presentation.
Thanks for this noticing to to Karen Dietz.
Following on from our previous posting about the different ways in which Siemens is putting stories to work, here’s an example how stories can help foster a corporate culture.
Culture is about changing or establishing behaviors, rather than simply talking about the term “company culture,” says Jennifer Bruno, senior director of wellness and prevention at Johnson & Johnson’s global health services.
To help foster and reinforce its culture of health, the company incorporates success stories about its health programs during its quarterly town hall meeting on financial performance. “If you are sharing with your employees the business’s success from a financial standpoint, then it makes logical sense to share the success of the business from a health standpoint,” Bruno says.
photo | cobalt123
Moreover, in-house meetings often start with a health or safety tip and are supplied with healthy food and water. Lengthy corporate gatherings also allow workers the opportunity to take a break and get up and move around.
The manufacturer of consumer health care products and services, which employs about 38,714 workers in the U.S., aspires across all of its businesses to instill a company credo of “this is the way we do business.”
“A culture of health is really integrated into the way we do business. We want to make sure that the environment around our employees supports their ability to sustain and make healthy lifestyle choices,” Bruno says.
Jennifer’s observations come from Blinding them with science, an article about company culture as a business driver with metrics to support its impact.
‘We have gone through a period where communication was all about being fast and short and to the point. That doesn’t mean that no longer has a place, it still has the same place, but storytelling is just a really powerful add on that helps you get a message across in a way that resonates and connects to people.’
That’s according to Keith Ritchie, storyteller at Siemens. He goes on to discuss two recent stories that have been particularly powerful in that respect.
The first is about an employee who lost an eye when he was a young apprentice. He’s interviewed on video as part of a series called, This Is My Safety Story. Its power derives from its authenticity – coming from an individual not a manager handing out rules to follow.
photo | F.d.W.
The second story is about a dairy farmer who wanted a technology solution to help him be more productive on his farm and how Siemens created a technology solution that allowed him to milk his 240 cows single-handedly in an hour.
We took that and we applied it to work content and social media. Then we turned it into a print ad for a very technical magazine called PACE, (Process Automation and Control). We used it at a sustainability speaking opportunity that we had, a broad sustainable speaking opportunity; we used a video of it. We shared it with our staff. We’ve used it in a multi-channel approach.
Since telling that story, Siemens’ sales of Programmable Logic Controllers (the product involved) have more than doubled.
You can read the complete interview in an article in Marketing about How Siemens uses storytelling to emotionally engage clients and staff.
Thanks for drawing our attention to this to our friend Thaler Pekar.
With corporate ethics front of mind and an eye on the banking sector, we registered three developments that together highlight the international dimension of these issues:
- the cancellation of Ark’s annual star spangled gala dinner: ‘A lavish gala dinner that was a highlight of the London hedge fund industry’s social calendar and counted royalty among its guests has been quietly shelved.’ (Yahoo News)
- Luxembourg’s climbdown over corporate bank account data: ‘Luxembourg is ready to share confidential information about multinational companies’ bank accounts as part of efforts to shed the Grand Duchy’s image as a leading tax haven.’ (FT today)
- the resignation of Santander’s chief executive: ‘The chief executive of Banco Santander, the eurozone’s biggest bank by value has resigned ahead of a decision by Spain’s financial regulator over whether he should be banned from banking because of a criminal conviction’ (FT today)
photo | Parlamento de Cantabria
Thanks to Alicia Pickering for this noticing.
photo | Chris Blakeley
Words and language have been on our minds of late. We’ve been developing a 60-minute session that combines presentation with participation on the topic; meeting with Gill Ereaut of Linguistic Landscapes; and discussing some of the issues around the role that tone of voice can play in positioning a brand.
At the same time we’ve been taking a keen interest in developments in the financial services sector as we continue to develop our approach to ethical auditing.
Those two areas of interest collide in a couple of recent articles we’ve spotted.
The Telegraph reports in a headline that RBS executive John Hourican tells colleagues ‘not to waste my death’. The language here is dramatic, particularly the metaphors of ‘cultural shudder’ and ‘cardiac arrest’. It’s the language you might expect to hear from a superhero, a master of the universe.
The Guardian, by contrast, reports on Demised: HSBC’s new euphemism for sacking people. Here the role of language is to downplay, to minimize issues that are highly emotional. We’re sure that the Guardian isn’t alone in being deeply cynical here.
Time for plain speaking, perhaps?
Some kinds of information seem effortlessly to inspire confidence and reassurance. Quantitative typically trumps qualitative in the rational/logical stakes, and the more data the better.
photo | CraigMoulding
The data generated by spreadsheets fall into that category. And, let’s face it, these days much of the world seems to run on them – from family budgets to government fiscal policy.
So the revelation, alluded to in a BBC article, that two Harvard economists admitted a faulty spreadsheet calculation caused errors in a study used by numerous politicians to support their austerity policies is a salutary reminder of the different assumptions and consequences that come with different forms of reporting.
Those two Harvard economists aren’t alone. Close to 90% of spreadsheet documents contain errors, a 2008 analysis of multiple studies suggests, according to a WSJ Market Watch article.
It’s important to balance quantitative and qualitative data and to be open to both the strengths and the vulnerabilities of both. That has been one of our aims in developing our approach to ethical auditing.
And with that thought, I’m off to check our cash flow spreadsheet to make sure we haven’t got any of those formulae wrong!
Flamenco, like the blues, originated as a form of protest and social awareness. Back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the lyrics were largely about poverty, suffering and the hardship of everyday life.
To express anger and frustration at the economic crisis, an anti-capitalist group known as Flo6x8 has been organizing flamenco flash mobs in banks all over Andalusia and beyond. This video shows them targeting the rating agencies.
Brings home the anger on the street and makes you think about how organizations might benefit from bringing some of that passion into their change programmes.
You can read more about flamenco, flash mobs and Flo6x8 in a BBC report by Jason Webster.
Following on from our previous post, here is another slant on corporate culture drawn from the Salz Review. This one draws on Organisational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Schein.
Schein argues that in any organization there are a minimum of three sub-cultures at play, each exhibiting distinctive patterns of interaction:
- an executive sub-culture
- an operator sub-culture
- an engineering/design/professional sub-culture.
photo | Alexandre Dulaunoy
For an overarching organizational culture to function effectively, it must align sub-cultures through overarching organizational values that help manage the natural tensions that arise.
This highlights a (perhaps the) key intersection between organizational culture and brand strategy: great brands stand for something, they are aspirational, people want to be associated with them (as employees, customers, suppliers, and so on). That is what helps bring together the various sub-cultures.
We’ve been reading the Salz Review – Anthony Salz’s review of Barclay’s business practices, which was released last week. It’s of great interest to us in the light of the ethical auditing approach we’ve been developing. It contains a useful survey of the literature on corporate culture.
One of the sources on which it draws is Leadership, Culture and Organisations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies, 2004 by Robert J. House et al. GLOBE studied culture in 62 societies and three global industries (financial services, telecoms and food), and identified seven attributes of good leadership that stood the test across all 62 societies:
- Integrity – good leaders can be trusted.
- Generosity – good leaders are helpful.
- Fairness – good leaders are just and equitable.
- Diplomatic – good leaders handle conflict well.
- Decisiveness – good leaders make sound and timely judgments.
- Competence – good leaders contribute to the company performance.
- Vision – good leaders articulate a desirable future.
photo | Eneas
The study also identified eight universally undesirable attributes in leaders, including being ruthless, a loner, egocentric and dictatorial. Other attributes were more culturally contingent, for example respondents from different countries reacted differently to ‘being ambitious’.
Singapore is using ‘modern fairytales’ to encourage women to have more babies in an effort to combat declining fertility:
Our modern day tales feature the same recurring themes of love, hope and struggles that fairy tales of yore told, with plots all inexplicably tied to family relationships and personal choice. The only difference? Ours do no play pretend.
Sparknow’s very first storytelling commission was a story written by Carol Russell, about a knowledge management project from which Sparknow was founded. When Carol presented her first draft, we only changed it by the addition of four words after ‘once upon a time’, ‘once upon a time, it might be tomorrow’… The story is called Corporania (.pdf).
Most books about organizational change are written for those trying to bring the change about. Well here’s a refreshing change (no pun intended). A book for those on the receiving end: Employee’s Survival Guide to Change.
From the blurb:
‘Written to speak directly to employees, this book answers frequently asked questions to provide an understanding about why change is happening and how to control it. Employees learn that the decisions they make throughout the change process have a direct impact on their own success during the transition, how they perform and how they are perceived at work.’
From Robert Wickman’s review on amazon:
‘This little book creates awareness of the change process for the employee. ADKAR is a great tool and this little book works well as an introduction to the ADKAR model. It will not bog employees down with too much detail - there is just enough here to gain an understanding of how people navigate change and what they can do to be successful.’
A recent report from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reform Church begins with a case study that shows how facts and evidence have been bent to meet the needs of policymakers (‘bad statistics followed up with a “dipstick analysis”’), supporting a series of popular myths (‘making the evidence fit’).
The report aims to highlight some comfortable myths, show how they have come to prominence and test them against serious evidence.
Here’s an example of one such myth, which the report shows not to be supported by the facts…
photo | Viktor Hertz
We live in a broken society. As hardworking families strive to do the best for their children, there is a feral underclass which creates a disproportionate number of social problems and is a constant drain on the nation’s resources. Through living off state benefits for generations, this group has a developed a culture of dependency and worklessness in which vices such as substance abuse flourish. Through idleness or dishonesty, making a fair contribution to society has become alien.
The authors of the report use a combination of facts and stories to refute the myths and highlight the need for a new story: one grounded in truth, compassion and hope.
It’s a reminder of just how powerful and lethal both facts and stories can be. Handle with care.
The report is called The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty (.pdf).
In a recent article for strategy + business, Art Kleiner and Nadia Kubis include a great summary of the four theories of corporate strategy that have dominated management thinking since the 1960s.
photo | Leonard John Matthews
Here’s how they characterize each of the four:
- The positioning theory, whose champions include Michael Porter, based its actions on staking out a place in a growing industry with manageable competition; success went to those who held a commanding place in their market.
- The theory of execution, led by W. Edwards Deming, Ram Charan, and Larry Bossidy, proposed that continuous improvement and operational excellence, when properly mastered, could lead a company to success.
- Henry Mintzberg is a leading exponent of the adaptation theory, which proposed adaptability and agility as the paramount virtues of a company, particularly in a turbulent world.
- Finally, the concentration theory, put forth by C.K. Prahalad, Gary Hamel, and Christopher Zook, attributed enterprise success to the ability of a company to make the most of a small set of core businesses and focus on them.
Two books have caught our attention recently:
- One million tiny plays about Britain | a snapshot of life in the UK, as imagined by Craig Taylor, originally serialized in the Guardian. Through the arrow slit of these snippets of seemingly overheard conversations, the state of the nation unfolds in every direction.
- Life in five seconds | 200 world events, inventions, great lives, places, animals, etc reduced to simple series of minimalist pictograms.These summaries point to seen things, and to what is missing, that we know to be there but may have forgotten.
There’s food for thought here for anyone trying to effect change:
- The challenge of grabbing the attention of people who are in a hurry.
- The value of paying attention to the small stuff – small data point to big data.
- The potential of using the play as a way of highlighting details that point to where we are stuck and where we need to go.
Marla Gottschalk has written an interesting piece about an organizational change process based on the story of the ancient ritual of a Viking funeral.
photo | SparkFunElectronics
‘In the process, the group symbolically “sent” their old strategies (hopefully along with the accompanying mindset) “out to sea”. They marked the occasion of this change with a considerable amount of respect – reflecting on what had passed – and anticipating what lay ahead. An honorable “end” so to speak, of the outdated but once useful philosophy, that would help usher in a whole new way of doing business.’
As well as the story aspect, we’re struck by the ritualistic approach to marking the and ending, which chimes with William Bridges’ observations and advice in his fantastic book, Managing Transitions.
The article is called Set your counter-productive strategies out to sea with story. Our thanks to Karen Dietz who brought this posting to our attention via Just Story It.
Not so long ago, most people would have taken a pretty dim view of advocating storytelling in an organizational context. Over the past few years, the idea has begun to catch on.
photo | alles-schlumpf
It’s still reassuring to know that there’s science behind the quasi-magical power of stories: that a good story can engage the whole brain (whereas a series of bullet points stimulate just one part of it); that stories can synchronize the brains of the teller and the listener.
Those are just a couple of points made by Leo Wildrich in an article for lifehacker.com, The Science of Storytelling.
Women and girls in the developing world walk miles every day collecting water for their families. So it seems very appropriate that to show solidarity and raise money for them, CARE has organized an initiative called Walk In Her Shoes.
It reminds us of a method we devised over the course of two years working with a UK national logistics organization. It involves a physical exploration of people’s stories and assumptions about change – by literally standing participants in the shoes of others to experience what the world looks like. And we called it walking in their shoes and you can find out more about it here.
We’ve just been watching a video of Steve Denning’s talk at TEDxOSLO about The Single Best Idea In Management In The World. In it he talks about:
- the ongoing transformation of management and leadership
- the epic shift in power in the marketplace from the seller to the buyer
- the devastating consequences of this shift for all large organizations
- the benefits of orienting the whole organization to adding value to the customer
- the resulting paradigm shift: a new mental model of the world
- the extraordinary profitability of firms that make the shift
- the inexorability of the shift.
If you don’t want to watch the video, you could take a look at the transcript.
Last week’s tragic helicopter crash in London was an event out of the ordinary, but sometimes the out of the ordinary holds clues for the ordinary. It was striking how eye witnesses were often ear witnesses, more so on that foggy day.
photo | David Holt London
‘There was the sound of the helicopter as I was leaving home near Vauxhall where there is fairly low misty cloud. There was a sudden very unusual buzzing sound, a very dull thud and then silence. It was the silence really that caught my imagination the most and made me worry that there was a real problem.’
‘I heard a very loud boom that sounded like an articulated lorry crashing or exploding from the other side of the river. I couldn’t turn around to see what had happened because I was going quite quickly along Embankment.’
‘It sounded like an earthquake.’
‘When I heard the explosion I wasn’t overly concerned as there’s a lot of bangs and crashes around here because of the building work. But when I saw the smoke, I wondered what had happened.’
‘I heard a massive explosion and looked up to see debris falling everywhere from the sky.’
‘I heard the bang - the top of the crane was obscured by the fog so I did not see the impact but I did see the helicopter falling to the ground along with pieces of the crane, then the long plume of smoke from there.’
In organizational contexts, we rarely seem to pay nearly as much attention to sound as to image and to the spoken word. Yet sounds can be incredibly evocative. The sound of stories and organizations at work has been a Sparknow theme for a while, with perhaps the best example being a ‘soundscape’ of the Asian Development Bank that we produced in partnership with Incidental.