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001 – An unexpected visitor from Mars

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —January 18, 2018
Filed in Business storytelling, Podcast

Welcome to our new podcast. Each week Mark and I will introduce a new story you could potentially tell at work, then we will describe why it works and share some ideas of how it might be used in a business setting. By the end of year you will have about 50 stories you can tell.

Our first story is about the past chairperson of Mars Inc., Victoria Mars. We work with Mars a lot and get to hear many great leadership stories. I hope you enjoy it and have a go at telling it at work.

shawn-and-mark

As this is our first episode we need your help to spread the word. Please head over to iTunes and leave a rating and comment and share this link with your colleagues, friends and family and encourage them to join in on the conversation.

We would also love to hear your comments and questions. Just pop them in the comments below.

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For your story bank

Potential relevance statement: It’s so important to lead by example no matter how senior you are.

Victoria Mars was the chairperson of Mars Incorporated, one of the world’s largest food companies. Makers of the Mars Bar.

It’s a family owned business

Victoria Mars is in her 60s, wealthy, well dressed woman who likes to keep in touch with what’s happening with the company around the world.

Visits a country to do a tour of the business. Sales manager takes her to a supermarket to see a new food display of their cat food Whiskas.

Victoria is walking next the the sales manager in the supermarket and and the turn the corner into the isle and they can see one of their colleagues, a young woman, on her hands and knees, cans strewn across the floor, still finishing the display.

The sales manager is visibly angry and he quickened his pace.

Victoria matches his speed then gets in front and as the arrive Victoria gets down on her knees next to her colleague and asks how she can help.

The sales manager is standing dumbfounded. Of course he gets on his knees too and pitches in.

Podcast transcript

Shawn:

So, welcome to Anecdotally Speaking and this is our weekly podcast about business story-telling and I’m here with my partner, Mark Schenk.

Now one of the things you ought to know about Mark, is the type of holidays this guy takes. He’s the sort of Guy that will go off to Fiji, to Beqa Island and swim you know, with five metre Tiger Sharks, without cages. That’s the sort of guy he is.

Welcome Mark, it’s great to be here for our podcast and get this going.

Mark:

It is indeed. Thanks, Shawn, I just want to clarify for our listeners that we are business partners. We have been business partners for a long time, not life partners, an important distinction and we’ve been meaning to do this podcast for some time so it’s great that we are finally underway.

To give you some insights into Shawn’s character, the sorts of holidays Shawn takes; well first of all I’d say he’s a very versatile guy, but the sort of holidays Shawn takes is that he’ll jump in the car with his wife and retrace the steps of Charles Darwin, following the path of Darwin’s exploration from Sydney to Bathurst. Bathurst is about 500km west of Sydney. Yeah, that’s the sort of holiday Shawn takes.

Shawn:

Doesn’t everyone do that. It seems like a fairly normal thing, right?

Mark:

Maybe one day. I’m sure it is on most people’s bucket list. In fact, just as a side bar, I had a great idea the other day, don’t keep a bucket list of things you want to do, keep a bucket list of things you’ve done. Good one.

Shawn:

Now why are we here, what’s the purpose of the whole thing, Mark? Why are we doing this?

Mark:

Well we know every human being is a natural storyteller, but we also know it’s quite difficult to do this at work. Being a story teller at work takes work and so one of the questions that people often ask us is, how do we build our repertoire of stories?

One of the reasons we are running this podcast is to provide you with a broader range of stories you can use but also understanding why they work and how you can use them in a business setting. So that’s the purpose of the podcast.

Shawn:

We are going to try to keep a fairly repeating structure, if you like, for the podcasts. So, each podcast will share a story, one you can use in a business context.  We will investigate the elements of those stories as to why they work, perhaps even why it doesn’t work if we’ve got one of those.

Then look at what’s the business point you can draw from those stories and usually there’s multiple business points and we’ll talk about that and then finally look at where would you use this sort of thing. Where are the opportunities and situations in which this particular story will be used? So, with that said how about I kick in with the first story and then we will have a bit of a conversation about it?

Mark:  

Let’s go.

Shawn:

Fantastic. Now I heard this story actually from work that we’ve been doing with Mars Incorporated, so they’re a big food company. Now you would know them from their very famous Mars bars, so they’ve got a big chocolate part of their business but they also own Wrigley’s and so they do chewing gum and sweets but at the other end of the spectrum they are also doing pet food, right, so your Whiskas and your Pals and things like condiments, master foods, so they are an enormous company.

They are a family owned business so if you like, some of the key people in the business have the surname Mars. It’s the Mars family and I heard this was about the chairperson of Mars and it happened about 2012. The chairperson is a lady called Victoria Mars and the family like to get out there and really see what’s happening with the business.

On this particular venture she headed off to see how the particular product, in this case Whiskas was being showed and displayed at the supermarket. It was a big thing for the country and the people who are representative of Mars in that organisation, and so they’ve got the chairperson arriving. And Victoria is a very well dressed 60 plus year old woman who has seen a lot of the business in all sorts of different places.

And on this particular day they take her to the supermarket and you’ve got the general manager and the sales director there and the sales director is directing her to a particular aisle. They said turn down aisle seventeen to have a look at this display and there down the other end of the aisle their associates are still working on the display, it hasn’t been completed yet and you can see the director’s face immediately goes red and he starts to quicken his steps and there’s cans and products scattered around. The person who’s working, they call them associates is on her knees and she’s trying to gather things together to get it all done.

The director’s picking up speed and Victoria picks up speed right, and as they get to the display, just as they were getting there, and you can sort of see the director just about to blow his top, Victoria gets down on her hands and knees and says, ‘how can I help?’

The sales director’s standing there going, oh god what do I do. He’s got no choice right. He gets on his hands and knees as well and when I heard that story I just went, what a great example of leadership right.

Now let’s jump into that first bit, what elements in that story make that a story you can tell and it kind of works for people? What do you think are some of the key things for you, Mark?

Mark: 

There’s a whole bunch but the first thing I would say is the element of surprise. It really works well in that story and in some ways it’s incredibly disappointing but it’s surprising to us that a senior leader would do something like that.

Shawn:

Yeah right.

Mark:   

That a person like Victoria Mars would get down on her hands and knees and start packing product on the shelf. So that kind of breaks the script. It really is a useful device is that surprise, but I reiterate, isn’t it disappointing?

Shawn: 

It is a little bit, you know when you hear that.

Well clearly the stakes are high for this sales director. He wants to make sure the chairperson gets to see them at their very best and he turns that corner and all of a sudden, he goes ‘oh my god it’s not the way I expected it’.

If you like you are increasing the stakes of the story right there and then and I guess the other thing is that because we tell the story in a way where you can really see yourself in a supermarket. You know the fact that I said, and they turned down aisle seventeen.

I actually don’t know it’s aisle seventeen, but it just seemed to me I could imagine them going down that aisle way and seeing the display half done and you know sort of the impact it’s going to have, so visual element I think is always an important one.

Mark:   

Right, so then there were two elements to it; the high stakes component so obviously this is important to the sales director.

Shawn:  

Right.

Mark:

Or maybe it’s perceived that it’s high stakes but also that visual thing and as you say, turning that corner. And one of the things that I think really worked with that story is that we could picture what Victoria Mars was like. Very well-dressed lady in her sixties, senior executive, wealthy, her first thought is get down on her knees. Once we have the picture of her the action she took was emphasised.

Shawn:

Yeah, it’s a contrast.

Mark:

She’s not an athletic young lady so I think that’s one of the great elements of it.

Shawn:   

Another important part of the story is the fact that it starts off with a well-known large company, right so you immediately recognise the business. That little bit of information we provided at the very beginning of the story is just enough to give you the context about who this company is, the sort of business that they are in.

There’s some recognition with Mars bars and things like that and you go okay I get what this business is. It makes sense to me, and I think that’s another element of it.

Mark:  

Absolutely, and that context which you set is really important but just a piece of advice for the listeners, keep the context short. It only took maybe 25 seconds for Shawn to set the scene.

Now I’ve seen people try to set the scene and it takes 5 minutes. By that time, you’ve lost your audience. They’ve switched off and it doesn’t matter how good your story is they’re probably not listening to it. So, you need context and just enough context.

Shawn:    

I think it’s that old adage of getting to the action very quickly.

Mark:    

Exactly. The other thing I would say too just probably the last thing about the elements is that there are certain types of stories that we’re immediately drawn to and I talk about this hierarchy of stories, you know starting off with any stories to do with death. Right, they go around organisations quickly, and people are drawn because they want to avoid death. So, you know.

Shawn:

Makes sense.

Mark:

Makes sense right.

Shawn:

That’s probably why the species has been so successful.

Mark:  

Indeed, but when you go down the hierarchy the other things you know; safety of children is another one and sex is something we are drawn to, you know keep the species going.

Shawn:   

Sorry what’s that one?

Mark:  

I think it’s sex, but the one that sits underneath that is power. Right, we are very interested in power and here we have a woman who has clearly got a lot of power in that organisation and so people are interested in stories about people with power because people with power can affect you.

They can have an impact on you in some way. This story of course, flew around Mars very quickly because, a. it gives an insight into the character of the chairperson but also it’s interesting because she has so much power in that organisation.

So, I think there’s some really interesting elements in this and I suppose that’s what we are trying to draw out here, but we probably should move on to I guess some of the key business points, like what would be a point you would use this story in terms of getting an idea across in a business setting.

Shawn:

Again, there’s many but the first one that came to my mind was if for example you had a value in your organisation around respect. And you want to communicate to people what does respect look like? Introduce it by talking about the importance of respect and then say we have lots of moments where we demonstrate respect or lack of it, let me share one.

Mark:   

Yeah exactly, that’s a great example. I think connected to that, is imagine you’re talking to a group of leaders. Say you’re the division head and you are talking to your direct reports, you might be saying look it’s the small moments that make the difference, right and the small moments speak volumes.

People are watching what you do as a leader and there was a great one just recently and then they can tell that story about Victoria Mars and immediately people will work out it’s those moments that count. Right and that’s definitely another one.

Shawn:

Yeah so we’ve had two business circumstances where you might use that story. A third one and this is most organisations where you might have low employee engagement or employee engagement lower than you would like. Of course, the people that have the biggest impact on employee engagement are managers, are leaders. You can use this story to illustrate that it’s the way you behave. Every interaction you have as a manager is a way to drive engagement or to destroy it. Here’s what it looks like when a leader chooses to build engagement and then lead into the story.

Mark:    

Yeah, there are so many potential business points. The other one I like is it’s just an illustration how important it is just to help out. It doesn’t matter what or where you are in the hierarchy of the organisation, roll up your sleeves, jump in, give a hand, they’re the sort of things that change culture in organisations.

Shawn:    

You betcha. I remember back in my air force days there was a saying ‘that you would never demand as a right what you could ask as a favour’, and so you could demand this person fix that or you could just get down and pitch in.

Mark:   

I also want to confess that in my career there have been many times where I have walked round that virtual corner and seen something I don’t like, and I have immediately assumed the worst, and I have made the wrong decision and I know that many times where I have done that. So, for me that Victoria Mars story is a bit of a double-edged sword. Great indicator but also a lesson for me, a reminder to me that I do the same thing.

Shawn:    

So, it becomes a trigger for your own experience, right.

Mark: 

Exactly

Shawn:   

So, tell me then Mark, you know given this story I think it would be great in our podcast here if we could give a bit of a rating out of ten. A bit of an idea of what we think how good this story is. For you, what’s your rating out of ten?

Mark:   

I give it eight.

Shawn:

An eight!

Mark:    

I love the simplicity and the power.

Shawn:

Fantastic. Well for me I think I would give this a seven. I think it’s a great story. I suspect out there we are going to find even better ones, but this is a good one to start and if you like this podcast I really encourage you, if you can rate us on iTunes, I hear that helps a lot.

Mark:    

In terms of people finding us.

Shawn:   

That would be great, go and find us on iTunes and give us a rating. Share it with your friends, come to the anecdote website cause you’ll sort of see a description of what we are covering, and we look forward to covering off the next story next week.

Mark:

And please feel free if you’ve got any comments or questions you can leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you. So just story on guys.

 

To be an effective business storyteller requires practice. Our programs are designed to work in a no-nonsense way in a business setting combined with lots of practical tools and tips and ways to practice. Learn more here

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

6 Responses to “001 – An unexpected visitor from Mars”

  1. David Christiansn Says:

    Gents

    Great first podcast and equally a terrific story

    Look forward to more and all the best for 2018

    David

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks David. Much appreciated.

  3. Rob Weare Says:

    Great podcast Mark and Shawn. Thanks, and I’m looking forward to the others.

    Something I took away from the story is the importance of senior management – and the employees in general – of an organisation taking on and living the values of the organisation. In this story I think it was easy for Victoria as her surname clearly identifies her with the company and she would have a vested interest to do what she did and to demonstrate what she expects.

  4. Peter wilson Says:

    Great job and fab idea. I love the format. Quick, efficient, practical. Much appreciated.

  5. Joe Floyd Says:

    Appreciate the story Mark and Shawn.

    Loved how you set the stage and helped us visualize the scene.

    This is a great story of the unexpected in leadership. Leading by example is one of the key characteristics of a strong leader and this story of Victoria Mars is perfect.

    I would think most of us assumed a different outcome other than Victoria getting on her knees asking how she could help. And I liked the add in of “The sales director’s standing there going, oh god what do I do. He’s got no choice right. He gets on his hands and knees as well…”

  6. Ronnie Dunetz Says:

    First off, congratulations on this podcast, I have been listening to them in the car so am never available to comment but glad I am able to do so now.

    I admire the way you have put together the low key and unassuming feel of the podcast, 2 business partners discussing and teaching in a very approachable way- I am learning lots from this style which I think works well in business.

    As for this particular story- I loved it and would give it a higher ranking personally! There are of course all kinds of business points one can use with this story but I want to comment further on one aspect which has been mentioned previously but I believe not enough.

    This is a story about WALKING YOUR TALK if you value integrity and equality in your organization! I am from Israel and we have very much of a “start-up mentality” where everyone pitches in, what is important is the GROUP results and not the ‘RANK” if you know what I mean. People admire leadership that is very egalitarian, one’s human values need to come through one’s words, when you lead by example you are leading in a humane way that “sticks”.

    When Victoria gets down on her knees and helps she is also transmitting a HUMAN value- ” I know this is difficult for you, we all have embarrassing situations, I do as well, let me help you with this one.” THAT is an essential authentic leadership story. The part of the sales manager seeing it and then getting down and helping is another major point- HE may not be sharing this egalitarian view that “we are all in this together” but can’t abstain since the number one lady is there getting her hands dirty…what is that telling us about him?

    That’s what came up for me- lovely story, thanks!

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