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Where storytelling meets social influence

August 12, 2013 1 comment

Experience may be the best teacher, but a compelling story is a close second. This is true as much in the workplace as it is in content marketing.

Let me explain with a story from my work life.

The meeting about meetings

In one of her first acts as the new manager, Sami called a staff meeting with one item on the agenda: meetings.

“We’re having a meeting about meetings? What’s that about?” several people wondered. I had my theory.

The weekly staff meetings were out of control. We never made it around the table for individual updates because each time the meeting would get hijacked by the same four people.

storytelling social influence

Storytelling at work.

They would consume the time with tirades about everything that was not working and how others in the organization were thwarting our efforts. Eventually others joined in:

“The sales reps are too lazy to pick up the phone and make a call.”

“I’m losing revenue because the plant is holding up production.”

“We can’t sell this product because the finance department priced it too high.”

The result was always the same: a rehash of the same issues every week with no solutions, but lots of hyperventilating. Mondays at 10:00 were my time of dread.

Sami had attended some of those meetings. My silent prayer was that she would bring change. That prayer was answered in a way I did not anticipate.

She opened the meeting that Monday morning with a statement that caught everybody by surprise. “I think we should discontinue the weekly meeting. I’m not sure anyone is getting any value from them. What do you think?”

The typically vocal group went silent.

Then one by one, people began to list reasons we needed to keep the meetings. This led to a discussion on how to make them more productive. Then the group came to agreement on new ground rules for interacting: offer solutions when voicing a problem; time limits to discussions; no sidebar discussions.

It turned into one of the most fruitful meetings we’d had in a long time.

At the end Sami added one last thing. “I’d like everybody to have a chance to lead the meetings. We’ll rotate each week and the leader is responsible for gathering agenda items, circulating the agenda beforehand and enforcing the ground rules. Everyone agree?”

They did. Enthusiastically.

The whole thing was handled brilliantly, especially that last part. It started a complete turnaround in the productivity of the meetings that spilled over into overall effectiveness of the group.

Related: The secret to bringing influence in any situation

From a management perspective, the lesson of this story could be about enabling teamwork or leading change. From an influence perspective, it is an example of the power of a narrative to motivate and inspire in the workplace.

But is it storytelling?

Lead with a story

Sami’s approach to tackling this management challenge follows a simple storytelling structure, with a beginning, middle and end. Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, describes this structure for business narratives with the acronym CAR: context, action, result.

Let’s look at the “meeting about meetings” and see how it fits into this model.

telling a business storyCONTEXT

The context sets the stage for the narrative. It is the who, what, when, where of the story. It also identifies the protagonist and antagonist in a conflict. On one side we have Sami, with a desire to improve productivity. On the other side we have the disruptors with a desire to vent.

ACTION

This tells what happened when the protagonist and antagonist come into conflict. Sami opened with an element of surprise to break the thought patterns of the disruptors. They were drawn into a debate defending the merits of weekly meetings.

RESULT

At the meeting the action shifted from negative fault-finding to problem solving. In hindsight, we can see the lessons learned: putting the audience into the story, team involvement in problem solving, leading and motivating change.

Stories at work

We often limit our thinking about storytelling to brand stories, case studies and marketing content or presentations. At least I do. But business narratives have the same power to inspire, educate, entertain and engage as brand stories in our content marketing. They can boost your influence in the workplace.

How do you put stories to work for you at work?

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Don’t think about innovation like a CEO

leadership & innovation

Short-term thinking by business leaders is the enemy of innovation and competitiveness.

American business leaders have a perception problem about how innovative we really are. Harsher critics might call it denial.

Recently, Forbes ran an eye-opening article on American competitiveness that is must-reading for every CEO and front line marketer in business today. It is a detailed assessment of a Harvard Business Review study that explores the causes behind lagging growth in business and job creation in the U.S. over the past decade.

Two findings from the study point to startling disconnects between business leaders’ perceptions and reality. While businesses are not competing globally:

  • Leaders rate management as both strong and improving
  • Leaders rate innovation and entrepreneurship as strong and improving

What do leaders think are the reasons we don’t compete or innovate as we should?

The most common problems business leaders cite are government regulatory policies, tax and fiscal policies and an inadequate talent pool. These are all factors, but the researchers identify a root cause leaders will not like hearing: short-term thinking by leadership.

You are what you measure

The study tracks how corporate governance began to change in the 1980s. In response to globalization, managers adopted a mindset focused on stock price and short-term growth and profitability. Over time, innovation came to be about achieving greater efficiencies and cost reductions more than creating value to customers.

At the same time, business schools reinforced this mindset. By defining profitability in terms of ratios to be measured across industries, they trained a generation of MBAs to measure short-term performance as the gauge for success.

As a result, business leaders define innovation as incremental process improvements rather than breakthrough product ideas. That is how they can determine they are strong innovators when their companies are not competitive.

Think like an innovator

To revive innovation in business, leaders have to change the way they think. Beyond resetting priorities to more long-term objectives, they need to start using the other side of their brain.

Singular focus on productivity and profitability metrics give a limited perspective of your business. Creative inspiration does not fall out of a spreadsheet or accounting ledger. 3M learned this the hard way. In the last decade, it applied Six Sigma principles for manufacturing to the innovation process, and severely stifled new product development.

Analysis has its place, but innovative ideas come from the side of the brain where you explore, experiment and imagine.

For many, this is a new approach to problem solving.

leadership & innovative thinking

Research by psychologists Joy Paul Guildford and E. Paul Torrance has identified two primary thought processes we use for solving problems: convergent and divergent thinking.

In business, we are most familiar with convergent thinking which is analytical and logical. It is characterized by arriving at the one right solution. Accountants and business analysts excel at this kind of thinking.

The other, divergent thinking is flexible, intuitive and based on associations. It is characterized by arriving at multiple, unique solutions. Artists and inventors excel at divergent thinking. This is where we get innovative ideas.

Research shows remarkably few people engage in divergent thinking. This has to change starting with the C-suite.

Leaders have to lead

This shortsighted focus is nothing short of a leadership crisis. As the proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

To bring about a revival of business growth and competitiveness, leaders must make a dramatic shift away from the short-term vision that has dominated the past 20 years. Awareness of the problem is the first step. But leaders must lead change.

The starting point is a renewed vision for serving customers, workers and shareholders. That means putting the wellbeing of the business ahead of their short-term rewards. Leaders must challenge the status quo of compensation that drives their behavior.

The Forbes article provides a stark account of this situation:

In his book, Fixing the Game, Roger Martin notes that between 1960 and 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 biggest publicly traded American companies fell by 33 percent. CEOs earned more for their shareholders for steadily less compensation. By contrast, in the decade from 1980 to 1990, CEO compensation per dollar of net earnings produced doubled. From 1990 to 2000 it quadrupled.

With incentives based on short term value and stock price, executives earned more while shareholders earned less and companies innovated less. Leaders have to turn this around. They have to start thinking – and leading differently.

We need from them a new vision of success and innovation, and how to achieve it.

Without it, the people – workers, shareholders and society at large – as well as the economy will perish.

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All you really need to know about increasing your Klout score

Increasing your Klout

While Klout’s scoring algorithm is a guarded secret, there are some things you can do to increase your social influence score.

“The best strategy for obtaining a high Klout score is to simply create great content that your network wants to share and engage with.”

That’s a direct quote from the Klout website. It pretty much sums up all you need to know to increase your score.

SIMPLY create great content. SIMPLY engage your network.

The irony, of course, is that those things are not simple to do. Nor are they simple to measure.

Measuring your influence

In fact, Klout has a complex formula for measuring influence based on calculating 400 social signals across seven different networks for each individual each day. Most signals are derived from activities that rank influence attributes such as:

  • The ratio of reactions you generate compared to the content you share
  • The selectivity of those who share your content
  • Your engagement levels with a wide range of individuals

Attempts to crack the code for Klout’s algorithm are futile. It is refined daily.

However, Klout does offer insights into the core concepts behind its social scoring. Those guiding principles give you an idea which activities affect your score.

Connecting to multiple networks can help your score. It gives a bigger picture of your potential reach.

Influence is built over time. Scores are based on a 90-day window of activity to arrive at a more consistent measurement.

Influence is the ability to drive action. Engagement is more important than the size of your network.

Activity is not the same as influence. Beyond engagement metrics like retweets and likes, how much content you create is also an important factor.

In a nutshell, this boils down to three primary scoring factors: true reach, amplification probability and network influence.

Improving your Klout scoreImproving your Klout score

The key to improving your Klout score comes down to focusing your social media activities on those three scoring factors. In the excellent book on influence marketing, Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer outlines a practical three step process for accomplishing this.

1. BUILD A RELEVANT NETWORK
For optimum amplification, your personal network needs a balance of size and quality. Of the three scoring factors, this is the most manageable. Some tips for building an engaged network include:

  • Create a benefit for those in your network
  • Seek out others with an affinity for topics you discuss
  • Weed out inactive connections that don’t move your content or provide value

2. DELIVER COMPELLING CONTENT
You need a focused strategy for both curating and creating content on the social Web. To achieve the kind of influence measured by Klout, your content must be helpful, informative, interesting and entertaining. This is what will drive engagement and sharing.

When it comes to social scoring, Klout rewards consistency. You need to blog, link, post, tweet or comment regularly and consistently to elevate your influence rating.

3. SYSTEMATICALLY ENGAGE INFLUENCERS
Your Klout score also depends on how often you engage, and with whom. When other influencers move your content or otherwise engage with you, your personal influence goes up. So it is beneficial to interact with people who have a higher Klout score than you. Some ways to spark engagement:

  • Ask earnest questions
  • Show appreciation individually
  • Be witty and fun
  • Participate in Twitter chats
  • Keep tweets brief to enable sharing

The true benefit of raising your score

By following these three steps, you can make your Klout score go up. This content and network strategy is simple, but not easy. There are no shortcuts, tricks or black hat techniques to game the scoring system. It takes time and consistent effort.

But in the process of working these steps, you will not only see your score increase, you will also see your level of influence increase. Isn’t that all you really need to know?

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5 lessons on leadership from the Andy Griffith Show

leadership lessons from the Andy Griffith ShowWhen Andy Griffith died on July 3, the tributes and career retrospectives hit quickly. He is most remembered for the television program bearing his name which ran from 1960-1968. It was widely popular at the time and remains a favorite for new fans in syndication. One reason its popularity has endured is it combined humor with humanity and simple life lessons that resonate over time.

During the series’ run, Sheriff Andy Taylor provided many examples of servant leadership that are a great example for leaders in any capacity today. Here are five examples.

1. Earned authority

Much was made of the fact that he rarely carried a gun. While some might argue it added to the homespun feel of being Sheriff of small town Mayberry, he frequently noted his authority came with the badge he wore and how he wore it. He carried authority by earning the respect of the citizens based on exemplary conduct not by instilling fear.

In one episode he walked directly into the line of fire of a holed-up bootlegger and calmly took the rifle away while other law officers froze under cover. He later explained the shooter could have shot any of them if he’d wanted – he was just trying to scare them off. He respected Andy’s ultimate authority.

2. Let others fail

Sheriff Taylor occasionally had to risk turning over responsibility to his deputy. In one episode he had to leave town for a day and let Barney Fife act as sheriff in his absence. In his zeal to prove himself, the acting sheriff managed to arrest the entire town on minor infractions.

Upon return, Andy had to restore order and taught Barney the importance of exercising judgment in understanding the larger priorities versus going by the book. If a leader is unwilling to assign responsibilities to others, they are not taking enough risk to enable their growth and development.

3. Assume responsibility

In a story involving son Opie, Andy taught responsibility for Opie’s actions with his new slingshot. Opie accidently kills a bird leaving behind a nest of fledglings. With Andy’s prodding, Opie raises the birds himself until they are ready to fend for themselves. In the process, Opie becomes attached to them and wants to keep them as pets. Andy reminds Opie that the mother’s responsibility was to raise them up and let them go. As the surrogate, it was Opie’s responsibility too.

4. Facing fear

There are so many episodes with this theme it is hard to pick one example. One involves Andy receiving a letter from a convict he put away in prison. In the arrest, Andy had injured him in a shoot out. Now the convict was getting out and wanted to “settle some things” by paying a visit. Friends and family urged Andy to leave town to avoid another conflict. He didn’t.

In a poignant talk with Opie, he admitted to being afraid but had to face the fear. In the end the ex-con came to thank Andy for creating the circumstances for him to turn his life around and learn a trade for starting a new life after prison. Andy taught everyone that fear imagined is greater than fear faced.

5. Build up others

One of my favorite episodes is when Andy and his sweetheart get trapped in a cave. Earlier in the day Barney is humiliated when he mistakes the bank president for a bank robber. He is ridiculed by several of the men in town. Later, at a town picnic Andy and Helen venture into a cave and are trapped inside by a rock slide. They manage to escape through another entry, but not before Barney organizes a rescue operation enlisting all the men who had ridiculed him earlier. When Andy realizes this, they return to the cave so they can be saved by Barney.

After they are rescued, Andy tells all the townspeople how fortunate they are to have a take-charge leader like Barney Fife as deputy. He restored Barney’s confidence and stature in the community.

 

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