They say what a leader walks past without saying anything becomes the norm. So sometimes it really helps to see what your people will let slide or who will speak up.
Today’s story should give you an idea for a little experiment you can do as a leader to see who will speak up so you then have the opportunity to reward that behaviour.
Many of the stories we’ve shared on this podcast are not only useful to tell but provide you with an example to follow, something to try out for yourself. Stories are a user manual for life. Love to hear how you have put this one into practice.
Tags: leadership, moments, safety, speaking up, story-triggering
Sean was working for a large logistics company.
One day his state management came to visit and inspect their team’s new trucks.
On the site it’s compulsory to wear a high visibility fluro-coloured vest.
Sean escorted the manager through the loading docks but realised that the state manager hadn’t put the high-viz vest on.
But they kept walking and every worker, the packers, forklift drivers, pickers, watched them and they all knew he was breaking the rules. But he was the big boss.
No one dared say anything except Ray.
Ray was the paperwork guy from the office. He approached politely and pointed out to the manager that he wasn’t wearing a safety vest and handed him a vest.
Sean was wondering what was going to happen …
The state manager reached into his pocket and pulled out a card and gave it to Ray.
The card said, congratulations you get a day off, full pay.
It was a deliberate strategy of the manager to increase the visibility of safety.
Sean, however, got his backside kicked for not speaking up.
This is Anecdotally Speaking, a podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. Hi, I’m Shawn Callahan.
And I’m Mark Schenk.
So welcome back, guys, for another episode of Anecdotally Speaking. Again, it’s another busy week. Mark, I believe you’ve been out giving talks and back to back activities. What’s been going on?
Yeah, I got back late last night. I’ve been in Sydney running a couple of keynotes for 320-people, but they were in two groups of 160. So, I got to do the same 40-minute presentation twice in a row. And I’ve done this same format a number of times and every time in the 2nd presentation I’m always wondering, ‘have I said this shit? Did I tell this story already?’
And even though it doesn’t sound like it would be that much of a problem, when you’re in the moment, the spotlights are on, and all these eyes are looking at you, it’s like, ‘did I already say that?’
As it turned out I didn’t repeat myself, so I did get through it.
One of the things I find that helps so much is if you use a slide with one of two words in it, you know that old thing where the slide is just a prompter, ‘oh I’ve got to tell that story’. But you don’t want to go down the other path where you’re writing everything on the slide, do you?
That’s right, so, the slide is just the trigger for the point you want to make on that slide. That’s one of the reasons why we can do it pretty well because that’s how we use slides; to trigger the point and there’s normally a story associated with the point. Still it is a bit of a disconcerting feeling when you’re telling the story and going, ‘did I just tell that?’
It’s a funny thing to when you’re under the pump like that. A few years ago, I got onto the show, ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’
I remember it well.
It was a funny thing. My daughter got me onto the show and I was going pretty well. I answered the first 4 or 5 questions in a row and the whole audience started to lean in—what’s going to happen? To win the $million you have to answer all the questions (I think there are 10 questions) and then a question came up which I’m sure I knew the answer, but you just blank out.
The spotlight’s on you, all the pressure and I got it wrong—got nothing.
I was screaming, ‘it’s this’.
Yeah, they say on that show there are only two types of answers; the ones people know and the ones they don’t. Well we want to help build people’s story repertoires, that’s what we’re here for and I believe you’ve got a great one for us.
I shouldn’t have said that of course—you don’t like me saying that, but I hear you have an O.K. story so why don’t you introduce it, get into it, and we’ll have a chat about it?
So, the idea is we’ll share the story and then have a chat about why it works and how we can use it in business. This example was actually triggered by our first podcast episode and I got a Facebook message from a friend of mine, a guy I used to play football with years ago and he shared this story (and I’ve checked—it’s completely fine for me to use it).
His name’s Sean McKenna; he’s an o.k. footballer and an average golfer. I met him in the world of Air Force Logistics where I started my career. This is the example he shared.
He was working for a large logistics company and his State manager came to visit and inspect their teams’ new trucks. He came to the site and on the site, it is compulsory to wear a high viz vest—pretty typical for that environment.
So, Sean escorted him through the loading docks and he realised the State Manager hadn’t put the high viz vest on, but we kept walking. And every worker was looking; packers, forklift drivers, stock pickers etc. And they all knew he was breaking the rules, but he was the big boss, so no one dared say anything except Ray.
Ray was the paperwork guy from the office and he approached this politely and he pointed out to the big boss that he wasn’t wearing a safety vest and handed him a vest. So, everyone’s looking at the State Manager—what’s going to happen here?
Well, the State Manager reached into his pocket, pulled out a card and gave it to Ray. The card said, ‘congratulations, you get a day off on full pay’. It was a deliberate strategy by the State Manager to increase the visibility of safety and of course it was a great reward for Ray.
Now Sean, finished his story by saying, ‘I’ll be honest, I got my backside kicked by the State Manager for not saying anything and quite rightly so’. They say what you walk past becomes the new norm—‘I didn’t just walk past; I walked alongside it’.
So, when it comes to safety you don’t get a pass from being killed or injured onsite no matter who you are. He said that was a great lesson for him.
Wow. That’s a great story isn’t it; especially the fact there was someone willing to speak up, right? So, let’s think about what makes that a good story. What are the constituents that make it work? What’s at the top of your list?
Well, the first one is power; that power differential between the State Manager and Ray, who is the paperwork guy from the office and the surprise that it’s the guy way down the pecking order who is the one who actually stands up and does the right thing.
That’s good and as soon as that happens the listener is thinking what’s happening next? And the sign of a great story is when the audience is thinking, ‘what happens next?’ Because then they’re pulling the story to them. They’re with you at every step of the way through that story so now you’ve got them totally engaged.
And this thing about power (it’s one of the topics I love to talk about) because it sits in that hierarchy of topics that we’re fascinated with, right under death, children, and sex is power. And we love to tell stories about people in power. So, good one, like those.
What for you stuck out there apart from power?
I love the fact that the senior manager had it all ready. This guy pulls out the card; he was hoping someone would pull him up. So, I think when Ray walked over and told him and gave him the viz jacket he was kind of relieved. I love that element of it and I wasn’t expecting it. Pulling the card out of the pocket that was great.
It’s a great example of what we call story triggering; he’s set up new stories about safety by setting up this little circumstance where he highlights the importance of people speaking.
The other thing I like about it is it’s a clear role model. It’s something that you could do as a leader yourself. You could actually go in here and re-enact something like that, which triggers a story to reinforce a point in your business. And this is really the whole point of story triggering.
The Heath brothers have come out with a new book called ‘Moments’ and it’s really saying the same thing, right? What are the moments you can create for people? He’s created a moment for them.
Absolutely, and it’s a very memorable moment and here Sean is sharing it years later.
So, you know it works.
But this is no small thing in terms of impact. It might be a small thing in terms of a planning perspective but the effect it’s had is quite substantial. A great example of saying little things that make a big difference.
Definitely. Now what do you reckon about where this might be told? What would be a situation where this story would help you make your point?
I’m working with a company in Sydney right now, with the CEO talking about the culture change moving from reader to author, from somebody telling them what to do, and them just reading it and then doing it to actually writing the story.
And so, getting everyone in the organisation to stand up and take accountability to make things happen. So, this is a great story about I want people at the coal face to speak up, highlighting opportunities, identifying those things we can do to really drive those customer service improvements.
Imagine you’re in a meeting and people are scratching their heads—we need this new behaviour happening at our workplace, for managers to do things to trigger that behaviour. It works in the safety world, but I would image it works in a whole range of different environments, values, and certainly the behaviours that you’re after.
That would be something you could throw into the table as an example of an intervention. I think that would be another place you could use it.
That’s a really good one; what interventions can we do to create the culture change that we’re looking for in this organisation? Here’s an example—what can we do using that as a template?
The other one for me is that leadership does occur at all levels in an organisation and if you can get people to recognise that everyone has a leadership role this is a great example of that. Ray showed leadership even though he’s the guy pushing paper in the office.
That’s good. Well there are quite a few places you can use that story. Maybe we should summarise and get a sense of what we’ve being saying here and then we’ll give it a score.
In terms of summary I like the fact that it was triggered by our first podcast. It’s an example of a small event that has had a big impact and that it also has so many different applications. I think we might have covered 6 or 7 applications in just a few minutes so a very versatile story.
In the feedback from the listeners one of the things they love is that the stories we’re sharing are these small stories because I don’t think they really grasped at first this idea that we’re putting out there that you don’t have to have the complex Hollywood story, beautifully crafted with hero’s journey and structure.
Here we are talking about a story you could literally tell in a minute. It’s not a complex story yet it can have such an impact. I think role modelling is going to be an important element of this—these are the role models that you want.
And the idea that it’s an intervention story; it gives you a template for what you might be able to do elsewhere. Well, what do you reckon, Mark, your score for the story?
I know Sean McKenna is going to be listening to this so I’m really reluctant to give to a high score. But I’m going to. I’m going to give this an 8.5.
I reckon it’s one of those really usable stories. I could see myself telling it and you’d just have to say something like, ‘I heard on the Anecdotally Speaking podcast, a guy in a logistics organisation…’. It’s totally fine to use other people’s stories especially when we know they’re fine for them to be reused.
So, for me it’s an 8. That’s another one for your story bank. Now I want you to open up the story bank, get this one down. This is what it’s about but just putting it down isn’t going to help you remember it.
Remember the three-step process—you’ve got to go and tell someone. You then have to have a bit of a conversation about it and then repeat it a few times. Then it’s locked in. You then have it to be told off the cuff. That’s what you’re after, those stories you can tell off the top of your head.
One of the easy things people can do is go to the website: anecdote.com/podcast because we’re going to put this story up there and you can just copy and paste it into your story bank.
That’s right. We’re trying to make it a lot easier for you to build up your story bank. You’ll have the text there—just whack it in and away you go. Before we go I just wanted to let everyone know that another way of getting information about what you can do to improve your story telling is to subscribe to our newsletter.
Which is called Anecdotally.
That’s it. There’s a theme going on here. So, go to the website: anecdote.com/newsletter but you’ll find places to sign up to the newsletter and you’ll get very practical things you can do to improve your stories, get them out there and told on a regular basis. Try that out and we really look forward to welcoming you to the anecdote community.
Thanks for listening to Anecdotally Speaking and tune in next week for another episode on how to put stories to work.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of 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:
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