Soundview Executive Book Summaries


The Importance of Storytelling in Business

 Jesus was having a discussion with a religious leader. When told that he might enter eternal life if he loved God and loved his neighbor, the man sought to justify himself by asking Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus replied with the parable (story) of the Good Samaritan. Even though this conversation took place over 2,000 years ago, this story has become one of the best known stories of the last two centuries, even among those that have never read the New Testament. Jesus knew the power of the story.

Stories have always been a part of business communication, but in the last several years a trend has developed around the power of storytelling in business. I found over a dozen business books written in the past decade that specifically teach the importance of storytelling in organizations, whether to improve leadership, to help focus meetings, to sell more effectively, or to build strong teams. There is even a National Storytelling Network.

Robert McKee put it this way in the Harvard Business Review: “A big part of a CEO’s job is to motivate people to reach certain goals. To do that, he or she must engage their emotions, and the key to their hearts is story.”

Storytelling is no longer just for CEOs, but the key truth is still the same – storytelling engages the emotions, assisting the speaker in communicating his or her point effectively. In Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, Nancy Duarte expands this point. Information is static; stories are dynamic – they help an audience visualize what you do or what you believe.

Patrick Lencioni has perfected the art of storytelling in his series of business books, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and Getting Naked. Lencioni uses the fable as a way to engage the minds of his readers, communicating the business truths through the characters of the fable.

In The Story Factor, Annette Simmons introduces six story goals:

  • “Who I am” stories – stories that reveal something about how you are.
  • “Why I am here” stories – to reassure the audience about your intentions.
  • “The Vision” story – to transform your vision into the audience’s vision.
  • “Teaching” stories – to communicate certain skills you want others to have.
  • “Values in action” stories – story lets you instill values in a way that keeps people thinking for themselves.
  • “I know what you are thinking” stories – in a story you can identify potential objections and disarm the audience as you build credibility.

Perhaps it’s time to develop your own storytelling skills. The resources above will help and you can read more in our Executive Edge newsletter Learn the Art of Storytelling.



How Does Your Company Rate?

Although we’re seeing some slight improvements in our economy in recent weeks, we still have a long way to go to a full recovery. However, some are looking beyond the present crisis and see signs of a strong economy in the future – that is for those that make the grade.

In Good Company, Laurie Bassi and her co-authors make the case that to succeed in the future a company will need to meet the criteria for what they call a “good company.” They have developed a rating system (The Good Company Index) which takes into account certain criteria that are becoming essential in the new economy.

  1. Good Employer – they use a starting number based on ratings from Glassdoor.com and the Fortune list of 100 best companies.
  2. Good Seller – they use the consumer ratings of wRatings regarding quality, fair price and trust.
  3. Good Steward – they based this on statistics regarding a company’s record on the environment, penalties/fines, restraint in executive compensation and contribution to society/community.

As they state in their book, “A good company is one that starts with good intentions and then puts those into practice concretely through its actions in these three areas. Is your company good or moving toward good?

If you think that your company may not rate well and would like to move it up the charts, join Laurie Bassi and co-author Ed Frauenheim for our Soundview Live webinar Business Success in the Worthiness Era coming up on March 1st.



Creating Ownership in Your Company

Although we place a high value on the knowledge and expertise of business gurus and authors, there is also much to be learned from executives who are out in the trenches of the business world, running companies and making decisions every day. This is the focus of our Executive Insight video series.

In a recent video, we interviewed Roseline Marston, president of A.D. Marble & Co., which provides environmental, cultural and engineering services focusing on archeological and historical structures. A.D. Marble is an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company, and Ms. Marston provides some excellent insight into how to create ownership in your company that goes well beyond just owning stock.

I have pulled out a few leadership principles that I culled from the interview, but you’ll want to watch the whole video:

  1. Physical presence is essential – Marston doesn’t depend on email to run her company. She regularly visits all six of their sites, and while there, works from a cubical next to other employees. She also works closely with each office manager and uses video conferencing when needed.
  2. Keep financials transparent – not only do employees see the financials on a regular basis, but they’re also trained in how to interpret them. In this way everyone knows how things are going, and are aware of crises early on.
  3. Ownership is important – knowing what is happening financially helps employees to better see how their work affects the bottom line.
  4. Feedback keeps things running smoothly – A.D. Marble solicits feedback from customers and employees about how they’re doing, and Marston applies this feedback to make improvements.
  5. Handle conflict directly – while the company has procedures in place for major breaches in behavior, all other issues are handled first at the peer-to-peer level.
  6. Leadership trumps management – Marston looks for potential leaders within the company, watching for those that demonstrate selflessness, loyalty and accountability. Leadership is not just about position, but about attitude and action.

If you’d like to watch the whole interview, or to enjoy our other Executive Insights videos, you can subscribe to Soundview Executive Book Summaries. All editions include the monthly video interviews. And we’d love to hear back about what you’re learning as well.



The Decision to Trust

I ran across a 2010 article by the Pew Research Center entitled Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor. Some of the numbers were surprising and discouraging. We are currently at our lowest level of trust in government since before 1978. Barack Obama has the lowest trust rating of any president over the past eight administrations, including Richard Nixon.

And this isn’t just a trend in our view of the government. The Pew research also shows a low rating of trust in banks, large corporations, national news media, the entertainment industry and labor unions. Those organizations in which we have high trust include colleges & universities, churches, small businesses, and technology companies.

I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised then that there is a new trend in business books around the topic of trust. Stephen M.R. Covey just released his second book on trust called SmartTrust. Other recent books include Liars and Outliers by Bruce Schneier, Trust Agents by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith, and The Decision to Trust by Robert Hurley.

Hurley’s book is especially interesting in that he not only makes a strong case for the importance of trust in organizations, he also provides the steps to building trust at all levels. Here is what Hurley promises that we can learn and do about trust:

•Make better decisions concerning who to trust, to avoid harm and increase pressure on untrustworthy agents to reform themselves.

• Allocate your trust building energy better by appreciating how different people approach the trust decision.

• Identify the root cause of trust issues based on 10 trust factors.

• Offer concrete interventions and reforms that can enhance trust in each of the 10 trust

factors.

• Clarify in which situations building and repairing trust can work and those where it

may not work.

• Provide a method for enhancing trust at different levels: with a person, within teams,

across teams, across national cultures, within organizations, and in leadership.

If you found yourself nodding with agreement at the lack of trust in your organization, then you might benefit from our upcoming Soundview Live webinar with Robert Hurley, How to Create a High-Trust Organization. Hurley will discuss the trust crisis in detail and, more importantly, tell us how to turn things around.



Operating with High-Trust in a Low-Trust World

In January of 2012, Stephen M.R. Covey will publish a follow-up to his best-seller The Speed of Trust. This is his introduction to the book:

“Following one of our presentations on The Speed of Trust, a man made his way backstage to ask a question that was obviously troubling him deeply. “Are you really serious about this?” he asked incredulously. “Are there really more than just a few people out there who operate with the kind of trust you’re talking about?” This man lived and worked in a country that was ripe with corruption, deception, and massive distrust. He was clearly feeling deeply torn. He sincerely wanted to believe what we’d said but was finding it almost impossible in the context of his environment.”

I don’t think you need to leave the U.S. to find similar concerns and doubts about trusting others in the workplace. We see evidence of business people who can’t be trusted ever day in the news.

So how do we take advantage of the “speed of trust” that Covey introduced in his earlier book? Covey and his partner at Covey-Link, Greg Link, propose a “smart trust” that can work even in the midst of our low-trust environment. They describe the five actions trust companies have in common, that allow them to exercise smart trust:

  1. Choose to believe in trust.
  2. Start with self.
  3. Declare your intent . . . and assume positive intents in others.
  4. Do what you say you’re going to do.
  5. Lead out in extending trust to others.

Perhaps you have similar questions and doubts about trust in your company and business field. If so then you’ll want to join us on January 5th to hear Covey explain the details of this concept and take questions from participants. The Five Key Actions to Creating Smart Trust webinar is free for Soundview subscribers, and is Covey’s first engagement around the publication of the book.



Drilling for Business Strategy

In our December 2011 Executive Insights video, we interview Ed Breiner of Schramm, Inc. While the name might not be familiar to everyone, Schramm was very involved in the Chilean mine rescue back in October of 2010.

Breiner provides interesting details on their involvement, along with their client GeoTech. Through extensive consultation with the Chilean government, they devised the best route for bringing up the miners, including the use of sophisticated equipment which Schramm manufactured.

Along with this interesting story, Breiner also offers insights into how his company has survived and thrived in the midst of the recent economic downturn, to emerge prepared to take advantage of the recent surge in demand for commodities.

Among the strategies Schramm has implemented:

  1. They provide a strong global warranty on their equipment, ready to send their technicians anywhere in the world. Breiner tells new hires that with Schramm they can see the world without getting shot at.
  2. The company philosophy starts with making a profit. Breiner states that they don’t focus on profits but they need to be profitable to survive. After that, it’s about providing customers with something they can use. With the commodities boom this includes drilling and extraction equipment for oil and gas, geothermal, water and exploration.
  3. Transparency is integral to management’s approach with their employees. Breiner says they’re all adults and so they speak straight with their staff. When the economy began to weaken, he told employees to put away their credit cards. They did have to eventually lay off some people, but they held off from November until January for the sake of their employees. They also worked with Pennsylvania’s unemployment department to take advantage of their furlough program.
  4. Breiner likes Jim Collins’ strategy of “discovering what you’re good at and doing more of it.” They focus on their strengths as a company and shore up their weaknesses. Their quarterly strategy meetings include people from outside top management to get a broader view.

If you would like to see this interview or read our corresponding Executive Edge report How to Steer Through a Crisis, subscribe to our Premium Edition of Soundview Executive Book Summaries, which include access to all videos and reports in one self-contained Online Library, along with book summaries, author interviews and past author webinars.



Book Trends Part II

Leadership and communication are trends that have been and will continue to be with us, but some business book trends come and go with the hot topics of the business world.

Not too surprisingly, social media is one of those hot topics that are currently generating new books. Everyone wants to know how to make money with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Coupled with this subject is that of customer empowerment, that through the use of social media the customer has taken the reins and is telling companies what they want.

Chris Brogan is among the authors filling the need for information in the social media arena, with Trust Agents which he wrote with Julien Smith last year, and Google+ for Business coming out in November. Shel Israel and Robert Scoble discuss blogs in Naked Conversations, Adam Penenberg demonstrates the power of viral media in Viral Loop, and Robert Bloom explains the new power of the customer in The New Experts.

In tandem with the green movement, we’re also seeing an emphasis on corporate and personal responsibility. Customers are making product, service and investment decisions based in part on how good a “corporate citizen” a company is, rather than just on how good the products are.

Carol Sanford just released a book entitled The Responsible Business, about which we’re hosting a webinar tomorrow. Daniel Goleman recently shifted from emotional intelligence to Ecological Intelligence.  Joel Kurtzman emphasizes having a Common Purpose that looks beyond the bottom-line. And Tim Sanders discusses the responsibility revolution moving through corporate American in Saving the World at Work.

One more trend that needs a mention is innovation. Although this topic isn’t new, there has been a strong emphasis in the business book world on recreating companies to be innovation powerhouses. Clayton Christensen is a leader in this arena, with the concepts he introduced in The Innovator’s Solution, and then is applying to other fields like healthcare, with The Innovator’s Prescription. Josh Linkner explains how to empower employees to be creative in Disciplined Dreaming, and Norihiko Shimizu describes the continuous innovation practices of Toyota in Extreme Toyota.

One great thing about these prolific business authors is that they are ready to fill in the information gap when a new trend comes up on the horizon. Our challenge as businesspeople is to find the time to read and apply this information before the next sweeping change takes place. That’s why Soundview is in business – to cut down the time from book to application.