Last Thursday night, Tony High asked me if I knew what a ‘mondegreen’ was. I had no idea. A quick search of wikipedia revealed that a mondegreen is a term coined for those times when we get the lyrics of a song wrong. But to be a mondegreen, the incorrect version needs to be better, in some way, than the original.
The term mondegreen comes from the first verse of a 17th century ballad:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual fourth line is ‘And laid him on the green’. I know I have many mondegreens in my repertoire, and my kids are ruthless in pointing them out.
Then, on Saturday night, I saw Colin Hay, former lead singer and songwriter from Men at Work, in concert. Apart from being a terrific guitarist and singer, he is an accomplished raconteur and had the audience in stitches for much of the concert. At one stage, he described how one of the lines he is most proud of is in the song ‘overkill‘ which goes ‘ghosts appear and fade away’. A few years back, he was about to start a concert in country South Australia when a guy came up and asked him if he was “going to do the song about the goat?” Colin replied “I don’t have a song about a goat” After some to-ing and fro-ing, the guy said “you know the one…’goats appear and fade away’” Colin’s response was “yeah, I’ll do that one tonight”.
All of that is a little by-the-by, as the point of this post is to explain that I got to have a chat with Colin after the concert – its one of the beauties of living in Canberra :-). We often point people to Colin Hay as an example of good storytelling in action, so I asked him if he had any tips on being a good storyteller. He answered “If you think any of this is ad lib then you are sorely mistaken. You need to practice, practice and practice some more in order to get it right.”
So, even those who appear to be natural storytellers practice extensively to refine their skill. Its an important realisation for the many people who think they are not natural storytellers. Maybe we just need more deliberate practice?
Filed in Business storytelling, Employee engagement, Leadership
People judge their leaders by how their actions align with their words. And how aligned these two things are then triggers stories that get told, and retold, across the organisation.
People are looking to see how the messages they hear from their leaders in corporate communications, presentations, and in the organisation’s espoused values actually align with how these leaders behave day-to-day. The term used to describe this alignment between a leader’s words and their actions is behavioural integrity.
Behavioural integrity (BI) is achieved when what leaders say and what leaders do are aligned. Research shows that employees’ perception of their leaders’ BI has huge implications for individual, team and organisational performance. Employees who perceive strong BI in their leaders show increased trust, commitment and willingness to go the extra mile, thus improving customer satisfaction, decreasing employee turnover and improving profitability. (#1)
In 2002, researchers at Cornell University conducted a survey of 6500 employees across 76 US and Canadian Holiday Inn hotels (#2). They asked employees to rate on a 5-point scale how closely their managers’ words and actions were aligned. The researchers then compared the results of the survey with customer satisfaction surveys and staff and financial records.
The results were unambiguous: the hotels whose leaders received a high BI score were substantially more profitable than the hotels whose leaders’ BI was perceived to be weaker. The analysis showed that a one-eighth of a point improvement on the 5-point rating scale could be expected to increase profits by 2.5 per cent. In the case of the Holiday Inn study, that translated to a bottom-line impact of over US$250,000 per one-eighth-point improvement.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, best-selling author Patrick Lencioni argues that the foundation of a functional team is trust.(#3) Lack of trust, he asserts, opens the floodgates to four other dysfunctions: fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. These five dysfunctions combine to sabotage even the most well-intentioned, intelligent and motivated teams. This assertion is in line with the results of the Cornell study, which found that BI is a precursor of trust and credibility.
In other words, for employees to trust their leaders and each other – the foundation of performance – they need to perceive a strong alignment between their manager’s words and actions.
This isn’t to say that BI means ‘doing the right thing’. It simply means doing what you say you will do, acting in a way that is consistent with your values and the messages you send. We may mistrust and even dislike someone who espouses and enacts values we consider unappealing, but we will give them some credit for representing those values honestly, thus displaying high BI.
Consider this story about former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, who is currently serving a 24-year prison term for conspiracy, insider trading, making false statements and securities fraud. One morning there was a long line of cars waiting to get into the Enron car park when Skilling’s car roared up and pushed into the front of the queue. In response to the honks of protest and frustration, Skilling just raised his middle finger.(#4)
Maybe this was exactly the message Skilling was trying to get across: ‘People from Enron don’t just stand in a queue and wait for their turn. We go straight to the front, push in, and take what is ours. And if anyone has a problem with that, we tell them where to go’. It certainly sounds like an action that was consistent with everything else he said and did while at Enron. I do think his behaviour maybe somewhat different in the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado?
So, why do stories about leaders’ BI get retold in organisations? Why do they trigger so many stories?
Employees look to either the behaviour of their leaders, or to stories about their behaviour, to judge their character. They want to find out who their leaders are, what they value, what they are passionate about and what annoys them. This is partly so they can predict the leaders’ future behaviour and its potential impact on them.
It’s often mistakenly believed that stories are just accounts of things that happened in the past. In fact, by revealing patterns of behaviour and personal tendencies, stories are also predictors of the future. By understanding how their leaders are likely to act, employees can modify their behaviour to reduce the risk to their own security, or alternatively to increase the likelihood that they will be treated favourably.
As author Tony Simons notes; “employees focus substantial attention on their managers partly because they depend on them for rewards, promotions, favourable assignments, resources and the like”.(#5)
This is why the stories leaders trigger by their actions are so important. They have a disproportionate impact on how people perceive their character and therefore their trustworthiness.
(#1) Simons, T. (2002). ‘Behavioral integrity: the perceived alignment between managers’ words and deeds as a research focus’, Organization Science, vol. 13, no. 1.
(#2) Simons, T. (2002). ‘The high cost of lost trust’ in the Harvard Business Review, September, 2002.
(#3) Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, New York.
(#4) Roberston, I. (2012). The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain, Bloomsbury, London.
(#5) Simons, T. (2002). ‘Behavioral integrity: the perceived alignment between managers’ words and deeds as a research focus’, Organization Science, vol. 13, no. 1.
As a manager, I have always had a lot of time for people who might not be overly talented but who always try their hardest. Highly talented people who won’t ‘put in’ don’t get much time or attention from me.
This afternoon a workshop participant told me a story he heard last week that makes this concept come to life.
We are all looking for better ways to sell.
Better ways to build relationships with our clients. Better ways to understand their needs. Better ways to communicate our products and services with impact.
We all want to stand out from our competitors.
Anecdote’s Storytelling for Sales Program develop’s your story skills to do exactly that.
We are excited to announce that we’ll be running our first Storytelling for Sales public workshop here in Melbourne on Wednesday the 20th March 2013.
Tickets for this special workshop are only $695, but there are only six places available, so you’ll need to be in quick.
To find out more about the program and to register please go here.
We have talked a lot in this blog about the power that comes from showing how you are like your audience for improving the effectiveness of your communication.
From telling stories that show you are like them (The ‘I’m like you‘ story), to using their words, phrases or idioms. There are a number of ways that you can connect to your audience by showing them that you are like them.
I saw an example recently where one of the world’s best known brands was using a similar concept here in Australia.
In a world first, McDonald’s Australia has changed its signage to ‘Macca’s’ at selected restaurants.
McDonald’s Australia, Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Lollback said McDonald’s was incredibly proud to embrace its ‘Australian-only’ nickname.
“With one in two Australains giving us the nickname Macca’s…it was a perfect time to embrace the moniker and change our [name] across the country.” Lollback said.
“Changing our signage to Macca’s is a world first for our business and we’re thrilled to be celebrating the nick name that only Australians have given us,” he added.
For me, this is an example of a brand trying to show they are ‘just like’ their audience; “so much so that we even changed our name to the name you call us!” Clever.
Just a reminder that we’re running a number of events in the coming weeks. We hope to see you at one of these and help you build your storytelling skills.
## Public Workshops
We are running two Storytelling for Leaders public workshops. The first workshop will be in Melbourne on Wednesday, 13th February 2013, with the Canberra workshop taking place two days later on Friday, 15th February 2013.
Tickets for these workshops are only $695 and all attendees will automatically receive a free Deliberate Practice Program, normally valued at $420.
To find out more about the Melbourne workshop and to book please go [here](http://www.eventbrite.com/event/5238520556). And for the Canberra workshop please go [here](http://www.eventbrite.com/event/5238584748).
We are also offering a version of our popular Storytelling for Leaders workshop online for the first time, running two webinars on Tuesday, 19th February. The format will be interactive, with a mixture of presentation, scattered with the opportunity to ask questions.
Tickets for the webinar are $129 each and each participant will receive a FREE copy of the first module (Continuing to build your story-spotting skills) from our Storytelling for Leaders Deliberate Practice Program.
» [Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM AEDT](http://www.eventbrite.com/event/5238801396)
» [Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | 8:00 PM - 9:15 PM AEDT](http://www.eventbrite.com/event/5239419244)
One of the things that we tell people in our workshops is that your stories need to be true, particularly in a business context.
Your stories should be genuine and authentic. They must also be accurate, plausible and believable. If they’re not, you run the risk of damaging your credibility.
Consider this example of UK Primer Minister David Cameron, cited in a recent [BBC article](http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20956126):
During the first televised prime-ministerial debate in 2010, David Cameron told a story about talking to a “40-year-old black man”, who had served 30 years in the Royal Navy.
Read that again. A *40-year-old*, who had served *30 years* in the Royal Navy. Clearly, it is not accurate, nor plausible. This would mean he had joined the armed forces aged 10.
In this instance, Mr. Cameron failed to communicate and convey his wider ideas, simply because his story was inaccurate and implausible.
Don’t make the same mistake when telling your stories.