Customer Centricity
Astute Planning. Flawless Execution.
Delighted Customers.

Issue #183

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

At Customer Centricity, our goal is to assist our clients in driving continuous improvement efforts - that stick. It is one thing to implement a new process and/or system. It is quite another to ensure that the intended benefit (return on investment) is achieved through its effective and ongoing use.

The purpose of our newsletters is to provide you with proven tools and techniques to assist you in achieving that objective (continuous improvement efforts - that stick). With that said, we are pleased to provide you this introductory article on leveraging "stories" to help you (the drivers of change) to effectively engage with your intended audience (participants and recipients of change) in a way that will ensure you achieve your anticipated objective (change that sticks).

We hope that you enjoy this series and find it an effective tool to include in your repertoire for driving change - that sticks!

The Power of Stories: A Leader's Story Makes The Continuous Improvement Process Stick
by David Sollars and Rob Salafia

A leader's crafted and well-told story can transform process integration from impasse to impact. Remember how it feels to be treated like an outsider?  Maybe you were the new hire, the new kid in the neighborhood or transferred from one division to another and found yourself ready to put your finely honed skills to work for the team only to be left unrecognized and alone.  Leaders know all too well how earning the trust necessary to initiate engagement can be challenging, whether in support of a new person or a process.

It is our hope that this series of articles will remind leaders of their powerful past lessons of innovation. In addition, we will illustrate specific techniques for shaping messages that guide key behaviors needed for successful implementation of a continuous improvement process.

What's Your Story?

Most continuous improvement initiatives we observe are implemented for all the right reasons, yet these same initiatives fall short of full integration and fail to demonstrate value. The organization does not achieve the market leverage necessary to stay competitive, teams struggle with workload and poorly integrated workflow, while the process with potential stays on the sidelines. This is a story of leadership, or lack thereof. It's a story we'd like to help you change.

The Power of Story

We are story archeologists. We help companies discover a path forward by uncovering their most inspiring story. We then help them polish and find the most effective ways to display their stories.  We dust off attributes and organizational artifacts, while creating a transformative environment for personal and team performance. By discovering the power of your own stories, we help you break through obstacles to achieve your highest potential. As Lisa Cron points out in her book Wired For Story, "Story is crucial to our evolution. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to." We've learned that the stories embedded within an organization can be significant drivers of key behaviors. They showcase its culture, emotional intelligence, and willingness to commit to success.

So, where are we with process?  Stephen Pinker, cognitive scientist and author of How The Mind Works, states, "Emotions are mechanisms that set the brain's highest-level goals." Through a combination of diagnostic-listening and experiential-exercises, organizational stories begin to emerge that are imbued with authentic emotions.  Well told, these stories engage both protagonists and antagonists into the process and toward success.

As a Leader

As a leader, you can foster a culture of innovation by building a relationship with the change process just like you would a person. And, at the end of it, you will have a success story to share with organizational stakeholders.

  • As a leader, you can help others understand the heroic potential of your process as seen through the lens of metaphor and story. Your "Story Presence" can help share big lessons of the past, define current strategies, and inspire a vision of the future.
  • As a leader, you can transform a data driven process into a learning driven experience. You will benefit from a bought-in culture that integrates ownership, commitment and investment into the new process.
  • As a leader, your "check-ins" and "shout-outs" will improve their process performance. Learn the value of a pause, develop deeper curiosity in questioning, and inspire others to embrace the process through their own learning stories.


Best Practices

  • Be specific about your challenge: Leaders need specific feedback in order to consider specific actions. Maybe your team has a point and this process rubs them the wrong way. Which way? Have them share it with you. Encourage them to be specific and strategic with their insights. Communicate your gratitude to them for their point of view. Anchor this valuable experience by reinforcing how their exact feedback is needed to customize the process and allow it to contribute to achieving their own goals.
  • Use metaphors for meaning: A metaphor expresses the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. Most of the leaders we speak with have a challenge when it comes to getting quality feedback from their organization, especially in the form of feelings. Since we know that feelings drive key behaviors, which then influence the outcome of a leader's initiative, various communication tools are needed to assist a leader's quest for knowledge. For instance, let's say someone in your organization is balking at the new process. They have not been able to articulate their challenge. As a leader of change you can ask, "What's the first picture that pops into your mind when you think of your experience with this process? Now using that picture, help me understand your current challenge." They may use the image of a giant wave and explain that ever since this process began they have felt overwhelmed. Now you know their behavior has been based on feeling overwhelmed and initiate actions to assist them assimilate the process.
  • Keep it honest and clear: No need to be fancy or flowery. If it's too jumbled, only trouble will follow.
  • Tell me your story: This is an opportunity for you lead the conversation by using all the tools we've reviewed. Tell your tale of this process, like you would to a new acquaintance. What have you done? Where have you been? What did it feel like? Take them along the path of your adventures with all the drama, delivery and deficiencies.  Lean in and actively listen. Ask questions that clarify their comments and draw out specific feedback that is useful in your own evaluation. How would they make the process better? Suggest they help you understand how they feel by using a metaphor. By collecting your team's feedback in the form of a story, you will gather the necessary facts and capture the feelings that are influencing key behaviors in your process.

 Coaching Questions for Your Team

Leaders ask strategic questions that guide their organizations to discover solutions. Have your team write down their answers to the following questions. Start the conversation around these or other "questions of curiosity" that emerge from your leader's mindset.

  • Remember the story of a process that went smoothly. What is one key behavior that you can transfer to your current process to help it go better?
  • Name one area of your process that you believe your insight can produce greater satisfaction.  Now tell that story to someone who could implement that change.
  • How have you modeled leadership in this process? What's one specific action that you can take to improve your overall leadership stance?

Try out these solutions and meet us back here for the next segment of this story. The next article will detail more practical tips for building relationships with your process.

David Sollars and Rob Salafia are story archeologists. They help leaders and top teams discover the story that sticks. They assist leaders of change to find the solutions to their process challenges by uncovering knowledge and insights that are often buried within their own experiences. They engage with organizations during pivotal crossroads to clarify current priorities, shape the newly formed message for guiding the actions of an organization, and coaching confident performance from each brand ambassador. They utilize a range of engaging learning techniques drawn from their extensive experiences in the fields of theater, martial arts and medicine. Through their process of self-discovery, you will learn the skills to find your story, carve out and customize high impact moments, and differentiate your brand by leaving a message that resonates with your audience long after you have left. Contact them to tell them your story!

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Recommended Reading

For a comprehensive guide to Customer Relationship Management, you are encouraged to read CRM In Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships.

As described on

This comprehensive guide to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) draws on Barton Goldenberg's 20+ years of experience guiding firms to a successful implementation of CRM solutions and techniques. Goldenberg demonstrates how the right mix of people, process, and technology can help firms achieve a superior level of customer satisfaction, loyalty, and new business. Beginning with a primer for executives who need to get quickly up-to-speed on CRM, the book covers a full range of critical issues including integration challenges and security concerns, and illuminates CRM's key role in the 24/7/365 real-time business revolution. CRM in Real Time is an essential guide for any organization seeking to maximize customer relationships, coordinate customer-facing functions, and leverage the power of the Internet as business goes real time.


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