Monthly Archives: April 2011

Storytelling to engage your team

I recently had an opportunity to participate in a webinar, led by Anecdote, a consultant firm out of Australia.  Anecdote specializes in storytelling to bring company’s strategies to life, and the webinar was about leveraging storytelling to build engagement.  I have never worked with Anecdote, so can’t tell you much about them but I can say that the stories they shared on the webinar were engaging, and a quick look at their website seems to promise great resources.

A few things that hit home with me, especially with my strong belief that engagement has to target both the mind and the heart:

  • Storytelling leads to an emotional connection and causes people to want to do something
  • Stories remind people of things that happened in their own experience.  To me, this helps them to feel connected to the story in a way that they aren’t connected to data
  • Anger dissipates when people are listened to.  I believe that anger and frustration lead to disengagement, so by listening, we can counteract disengagement
  • Whenever a leader takes action, they are creating a story.  I would venture to say that, in fact, stories are created more by what we do than what we say.  I wrote about this in my blog on Culture being more than a poster on the wall
One of the most prevalent stories that the facilitators mentioned was extremely simple.  They shared the example of a story people told of their manager stopping what he was doing and giving them his full attention.  The simple story of a leader focusing on what the employee had to say told a story of respect, listening, and ultimately valuing people.


Another example they shared was from the banking industry.  A senior leader was visiting a branch and noticed that there were several empty meeting rooms.  When he got closer to one of the rooms, he saw a sign on the door stating that the room could only be booked by Managers.  He immediately pulled his team together and asked if this was necessary.  The outcome was that it wasn’t, and he personally removed the signs fromt he doors of the room.  Without having to overtly say so, this leader sent a clear message that hierarchy was not important, in the story he told through his actions.

What sorts of stories do your employees tell about you and your leadership team?  If they aren’t aligned with the culture that you’re hoping to create, how will you change the things you do to engage your team with positive stories?  

Pic courtesy of Flickr user kodomut


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Defining Moments

I believe we all have certain moments or events in our life that help define how we behave in the future. defines a “Defining Moment” (DM) as “an occurrence that typifies or determines all related events that follow.”  I’ve been thinking about one of my DMs lately, as I’ve noticed a few times that I’ve forgotten one of the things it taught me about myself…

Just over a year and a half ago, I completely lost the hearing in  my right ear.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal – I mean, I still had my left ear, right?  But it had a significant impact on how I view situations and react to adversity.  I blogged about the experience and how it affected me here.  At the time that it happened, I had a job that I enjoyed, I was being recognized for the work I was doing, and anticipating a promotion in the very near future.  For the first couple of days after I lost my hearing, while I was going through vertigo and dizziness (and perhaps a little depression), I thought that my career was over, that I would never achieve what I hoped for and that I would rather stay home alone than attempt to have a conversation with anyone.  I couldn’t see how I could go back to presenting to groups and meeting with leaders all day, because focusing on hearing them was so difficult and frustrating.

After a two-day pity-party, my DM kicked in.  I started seeing the humour and the positive side of my situation.  I blogged about some of them here.  What I realized right away was that that was a lot more fun than moping!  From that point on, I have always tried to see the positives in any situation.  I have realized that things work out in the long run – not always the way you expected them to, but they do work out.  I didn’t get a promotion as soon as expected, but I can’t say it was because of what happened.  I did form more concrete relationships with some very great leaders who were helpful and understanding through my situation.

I truly believe that having a positive outlook on the experience helped me physically to get my balance back (my doctor was amazed at how quickly I regained this), and emotionally/mentally to get back to work (and life), and to move on much more quickly than I might otherwise have.

Some of the other things that this “defining moment” has helped me change:

  • Although my career was going strong and was a great positive in my life, I was also working long hours, neglecting my dog, friends and family and sleeping very little.  While there are times that I still get wrapped up in a project at work, now I prioritize life.  I work around my life, rather than the other way around.
  • I started blogging.  I started initially because I needed an outlet, was tired of answering so many questions about my hearing loss, and found that writing about it helped to soothe me and I could direct people to my blog when they asked about how it had affected me.
  • I sleep better.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m exhausted at the end of the day, if it’s the meditation app on my iPad, or if it’s truly because I can roll onto my hearing ear to block out background noise that might otherwise wake me.  But regardless, I get more hours of sleep than I used to.
  • I’m able to relax.  This may sound strange but it was really difficult for me in the past.  A few hours with myself with nothing to do was like torture.  Now, I can sit and read for a full day without the guilt that I used to feel.  I can meditate and think and just be.  Of course, these times are few and far between, but certainly not next to impossible the way they used to be!

Once in a while, I sense myself slipping into a moment of “glass half empty” perspective (usually when my tinnitus is loud or very high-pitched), or working too hard and not taking time for myself.  I force myself to remember this defining moment and think positively, relax, and enjoy what life brings me.

What are your defining moments, and how have they helped you change how you live your life?

Pic courtesy of Flickr user purplematfish.

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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Personal, Reflection


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Engaging Orientation

When a new employee starts at your company, do they feel like you’ve rolled out the welcome mat or like they’re just another number?

A new employee’s first few days can be critical to their longterm success and engagement.  They are gauging whether they’ve made the right decision to come and work for you and probably feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they’re taking in.  Here are some tips to help make your orientation program effective and engaging.

Paperwork, Policies and Purpose!

On your employee’s first day, of course you need to make sure they’ve completed all necessary paperwork and that you’ve covered critical policies and legislated information with your new employee, such as safety information and WHMIS training.  But Orientation should be about more than just policies and paperwork.

New employees should be introduced to the mission and purpose of the organization.  Do you have a culture video or a vision presentation that you can share with them?  Hopefully your organization’s values were shared in the interview process to help ensure a good fit, but review them again.  Discuss what the new employee’s role in helping the organization achieve its goals are.  Provide purpose for them.  Feeling as though you are making valuable contributions and that your work has purpose is a key driver of engagement.

The Grand Tour

An employee’s should get a tour of the location early on during their first day.  Again, there are some basic legislated things to cover including health and safety information, but make sure your tour also helps them to feel at home.  Cover things like where to put their coat/lunch/personal items, what door to come in, where to park,  where washrooms are.  Introduce them to key people outside your department, like mailroom personnel, the receptionist, IT support people.  This will help them to know who to speak to when they need help with something.

Buddy Up

It can be lonely joining a new company, where everyone already has their network of “work-friends”.  Invite your new team member for lunch, stop by their cubicle or office just to say hello, continue to introduce them to people outside their immediate work group.  A “Buddy” system is a great way to make sure new employees aren’t left out.  Appoint various friendly peers who live your company’s values to act as “buddies” for new employees.  Give them a budget for lunch out once in a while as a perquisite.  You’ll gain the money back tenfold in engagement and productivity levels as your new employees feel comfortable and confident more quickly.

Wow them

We tend to do a great job making people feel like appreciated when they tell us they’re leaving.  Have you ever been to a “send off” party for someone who has gotten another job, or have you been the recipient of one of those parties?  I know how it feels to be blown away by the kind words and gifts from bosses and coworkers when I was leaving to go to another job.  I have always thought how much more effective those gestures would have been while I was working there, or when I joined the company.  Do what you can to wow your new employee.  The basics are to make sure their business cards are ready and their nameplate printed and hanging.  If there are other things you can do, like take them to lunch with the team in their first week, or present them with a company coffee mug or piece of swag to welcome them, they will be wowed.  Don’t save these things for the next time someone leaves!

How do you make new employees feel welcomed and appreciated?  Share your best practices in the comments.

Pic via Flickr user Joelk75.


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Great Leaders know how to Receive Feedback as well as give it.

As leaders, we’re often giving our teams feedback that will help them grow and develop. But what happens when someone on your team gives you developmental feedback? How do you take it? I’ve seen several responses ranging from sarcasm to defensiveness to agreeing immediately and then using that feedback against the person later.

Most recently, though, I experienced the most positive response I’ve seen in a leader. Let’s call her Alison. I explained to Alison that a certain behavior she often demonstrated was stalling my development. Alison listened, then proved that she had by adding to what I had said, and empathizing with me. She told me she fully agreed and asked for my help in stopping her the next time she behaved this way. Then the next day, Alison came to me first thing and thanked me for the feedback. She said she had thought about it further and realized that she was doing the same thing to others on our team, and I had helped her to realize it. Wow!

The funny thing was that I knew Alison was a great leader when I went to her with the feedback. In fact, I found it extremely difficult to give her feedback because of this. I mean, how could I be going to such a great mentor and coach and asking her to change her behavior? But, after hours of fretting about what to say and how to approach this, I knew that I would want to be told if it were me.  Alison demonstrated her great leadership once again by showing her desire to continue to improve and her understanding of how she was affecting the team.

When you receive feedback from others, do you think about the courage it took them to come to you?  Do you consider how important it must be to them?  And do you think about the fact that if this is bothering them, it might be bothering others too?  How do you react to feedback?


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Hiring High Performers

When I’m working with Managers on dealing with problem employees, I often hear “she was great in the interview”, or “he had tons of experience – I thought he’d be perfect!”, and even “I don’t know how she got hired”.  I usually give the same three types of advice on hiring the right people who will be high performers.  First, know what type of behaviour you’re looking for.  A high performer in one company may simply not fit with another.  Secondly, ask behavioural questions to find out whether they match that behaviour.  Finally, bite your tongue – save your comments about the job, the company, and what you’re looking for until the end of the interview.

Know the behaviour you’re looking for.

I ask managers to think about their top performers and what they appreciate about them.  I ask what separates them from the average or poor performers on their team.  I ask about specific situations they have been in, where they have proven to be a high performer.  From this discussion, I can get a sense of the types of behaviours these people demonstrate.  An example might be the ability to display empathy when dealing with people.  You might find that your top performers put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand their point of view, while other employees tend to think the customer is over-reacting or simply wrong.  In a strong service-oriented company, this type of empathy might be very important.  By discussing some comparisons between how top performers and average performers dealt with complaints, we can see that empathy is one of the behaviours you want to select for.

Ask behavioural questions.

This is truly the key, but it takes practice to become natural at behavioural interviewing.  Behavioural questions are about what the person has actually done in the past.  This concept is based on the fact that a person’s past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.  Once you know the behaviour you’re looking for, you ask open ended questions about situations that the candidate may have been in, and how they behaved.  For example, in our empathy example, you might ask them to “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a customer complaint”.  The idea is to get a specific answer so that you fully understand what led to the situation, what the candidate said, felt, thought, and did, and what the outcome was.  This often won’t happen right away, so you’ll likely have to probe for more information.  The key is to keep your questioning very open-ended, and not to lead the candidate to telling you what you want to hear.  When you finally fully understand the situation, you should be able to see what level of empathy the candidate demonstrated.

Bite your tongue.

This is often a tough one, especially for Managers who are used to telling their teams what they think, what to do, etc.  The reason I always recommend keeping information about the company and what you’re looking for until the end is that you really want to hear what the candidate is looking for and what their personal ability and behaviour is, without having them tell you what you want to hear.  This is probably the only time you’ll hear me telling someone not to positively reinforce positive behaviour.  When the candidate demonstrates the behaviour that you’re looking for, try to keep your excitement to a minimum.  Imagine you’re playing poker and focus on not showing your hand.  Don’t give too much information about the job or the company and its values until the end of the interview.  Remember, the more you tell the candidate, the more they can glean what you’re looking for, and you may not get a true read on them.  After you’re through asking all of your questions, provide some time for the candidate to ask you some questions.  This is your time to tell all those things you’ve been biting your tongue on for the past half hour or so.  Feel free to share all the positive things about your company, your team, and what it’s like to work there.  Gauge their reaction – do they lean in when you talk about the work environment, or seem less interested?  All of these things help you to evaluate whether this candidate is the right fit for your team.

If you practice all of these things, you’ll be on your way to hiring more high performers for your team.

Pic via Flickr User mytudut.  


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More on Twitter’s fluid leadership and global impact

Recently, I posted some quick info about the history and concept of Twitter, as well as a link to a Biz Stone interview.  Click here to read it.  One of the things I find fascinating about Twitter is the fluid, team effort that goes into running the company.  Biz talked about how the three co-founders, himself, Jack Dorsey, and Evan Williams, sort of swap in and out of the role depending on the needs at the time.  Ego just doesn’t seem to factor into the equation.

Dorsey, Williams, and Stone have also turned down substantial offers for Twitter, knowing that there’s more for them to accomplish with it.  Biz talked about the global impact and the positive change that can come from the info-sharing site.

Check out this article from Fast Company (click here) – an interview with Jack Dorsey – some of the same themes come up.  These three are very innovative – I can’t wait to see how Dorsey’s new mobile credit card idea, Square, works out!


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The Passion Factor in Success

As you would know if you read the “About” section on the site, I strongly believe that in order to achieve success, you have to engage not only people’s minds, but also their hearts.  I think not only is this true in engaging customers and employees, but that it’s also critical to success in selling a product or starting a business.  Lately, as I’ve been reading and listening to business leaders, this has been extremely prevalent in what they credit their success to.

I recently re-read Jim Collins book Good to Great – a must-read for anyone who is interested in achieving greatness in business.  One of the concepts discussed in the book is the Hedgehog Concept.  It truly hits the engagement nail on the head.  The key is in the intersection of three circles – What you are deeply passionate about (I’d call this emotional engagement), what drives your economic engine (rational engagement), and what you can be the best in the world at (I think of this as a bit of both).  Through Collins’ extensive study, he found that companies who were able to reach long-term success focused on all three of these.  Simply knowing rationally that a business will be profitable is not enough – you must truly be passionate about it in order to achieve.

Three very successful business people stand out in my mind when I think about this concept of passion about business – Donald Trump, Tony Hsieh, and Biz Stone.

Donald Trump has said that he would never sell a product that he wasn’t passionate about.  He’s quoted as saying “Without passion you don’t have energy, without energy you have nothing.”  Trump himself is extremely passionate about real estate, and has created wild success in this area.  He frequently speaks about passion during his hit show, “The Apprentice” as well.  It’s easy to see how Trump’s passion creates persistence and ultimately helped to lead him to success.

Tony Hsieh is the founder and CEO of, which was purchased by Amazon in 2009, but which he still runs as CEO.  In his book, Delivering Happiness , Hsieh talks a lot about his passion for his business, and tells a compelling story of one of his earlier ventures, LinkExchange, and how, once the passion and excitement was gone, he knew it was time to leave.  He is extremely passionate about the corporate culture at Zappos, and in fact, Zappos’ successs is build on this as its #1 priority.  The company’s purpose is “delivering happiness to the world”, and employees, customers and visitors to Zappos certainly attest to that achievement.  This is apparent in the fact that, even after being acquired, Zappos actually moved up 8 slots in Fortune magazine’s “Best Companies to Work for”, to 15th on the list.

In the final chapter of his book, “End Game”, Hsieh writes about pursuing the goal of happiness and about the science of Happiness, according to various researchers.  It’s a great read, and very connected to the concept of engaging Hearts and Minds.  I loved this book, and was truly inspired by Tony Hsieh’s ability to mission being accomplished.  Hsieh’s story and the success of Zappos are truly inspirational, and a perfect case study of the Hearts and Minds strategy of engagement.

Finally, very recently, Biz Stone, one of the three co-foudners of Twitter, was recently interviewed by Howard Stern.  I wrote about some of the points from his interview in a recent post – to read that post, click here.  Biz talked about an earlier venture, called Odeo, which was essentially an easy way to create podcasts.  He and his partners had plenty of venture capitalists invested, the product was effective, but they weren’t “emotionally invested” in it.  For that reason, they took a couple of weeks to develop something that was “totally different, and “more fun”.  They developed the concept of Twitter.  Biz is passionate about Twitter making a difference globally and this passion translates into great success.  Twitter has received several offers of acquisition but the cofounders believe they have more to develop in order to achieve Twitter’s potential.

Passion in your product or business is essential to achieving true success.  Without it, your venture may achieve results, but in the long-term, it will not help you through to the higher purpose which we all look to.

My question to you: What are you passionate about?  How can you turn that into a business?  If you can do that, you will be well on your way to success!


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