Thesis: Elements of Storytelling

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Management- Storytelling

Storytelling is recognized as a universal human activity (Matthews & Wacker, 2007). It serves wide-ranging and diverse purposes. History shows that societies have created stories and listened to them passionately and intently as well. Storytelling is also the method by which people introduce themselves to one another, where they come from, their beliefs, and how they are different from one another. As Matthews & Wacker further states, "whether you know it or not, your business is already telling stories; the important thing is to learn to recognize them as such and utilize them to help you succeed" (par.1.).

According to Simmons (2006, par.53), "storytelling is the most valuable skill you can develop to influence others." Given this level of importance Simmons gives to Storytelling as a tool, he lays out six different types of stories that can be used to help influence others, specifically in the organizational setting. These are the Who Am I stories, which basically deal with building trust among your audience which will serve as the driving mechanism by which you can articulate your objectives -- this kind of story may require sharing personal experiences or stories that emulate your own values or experiences; the Why I am Here stories, which focus on your objectives and requires the ability to discriminate one's healthy ambitions vis-a-vis dishonest exploitation of your co-workers; the My Vision Story, which requires your ability to connect your vision with the people - it requires some sense of connection and parallelism of perspectives as one needs to be able to let the other people see the vision that s/he has laid out for the organization; the Teaching Stories, which are less on what you want them to do but more on how you want things done - it requires a greater level of employee understanding of why you want them to do those things; the Values in Action Stories, which teach people your values through stories that are descriptive and suggestive of it; and lastly the "I Know What You're Thinking Stories, which basically deal with showcasing your ability to read their minds but more importantly it is a display of the level of connection that you have with them. This kind of story helps zero in your audience's fears (Simmons, 2006).

Employing this framework, this paper will deal with my "blind spot" and how it affects my organization. But before going any further, I believe it is fitting to first introduce the concept of an organizational "blind spot," which is characterized as resulting from an "absence of information necessary for interpolation." (Durgin et al., 1995, par.11). Crudely, blind spots results to gaps that prevent us from understanding the larger dynamic scene.

Recently, I was promoted to Regional Sales Director for the Minneapolis Region. This region includes 87 sales representatives and 9 district sales managers. As part of the executive committee, I would attend leadership meetings where I have constantly been asked of whether I came from companies such as Astra, AstraMerck, Stuart/ICI. Normally, I would simply answer those questions as briefly as I could. It was no big deal to me. That was my first blind spot. It was only until later that I realized that such questions were mechanisms by which these other executives gauge my potentials and suitability to my recently assigned position. As expected, I have heard talks and questions surrounding my suitability to the position. It was then that I realized that I have not been proving myself that much to my co-executives. Since then, I have been more open in telling them stories of my experiences in sales and my track record nonetheless. Moreover, I realized that I need to come across as a very grounded leader to gain the trust of my co-executives and my employees as well -- which is why my second thoughts on disclosing about the challenges and problems I am faced with in the department have lessened. Consequently, I have been more than open and admitting to the fact that I have inherited problems such as (a) poor employee attitude (low employee engagement), (b) lack of effective leadership from the primary coaches, - lack of vision, (d) lack of a mission, and (e) lack of a core message being delivered by an authentic leader. This recent promotion was also a challenge in terms of having new responsibilities, working in a somewhat different setting, and working with employees with a now different power structure. Suddenly, I found myself having to introduce myself to my employees again. Through stories that reveal my personal side, my values, and my previous experiences, I believe that I have become more connected with my employees. More importantly, I believe that I have become more approachable which is very important in any organizational setting where power structures are evident. I may have cracked more than a couple jokes but at the same time I make it a point that there's no deviation from the fact that there remains a sense of subordination and superiority that we need to come to terms with.

Essentially, my primary objective is to improve the sales performance of the department. In 2006 and 2007, this region finished last in sales performance. As any recently promoted person would say, there exists and remains the challenge and pressure to show what you are capable of. On my end, it is my ambition to deliver a significantly higher sales performance for the region. Articulating this ambition to my employees was difficult, particularly because I am faced with low employee engagement and lack of vision in the department. At first, I simply communicated the low sales performance problem as simple as you one can imagine -- I showed graphs to communicate to them the need to improve our sales output. But after reading Simmons, it made me realize that indeed it was a blind spot as Simmons (2006) states, "Objective data doesn't go deep enough to engender trust" (par. 21). In this respect, I have realized that there are things that the graphs I presented weren't able to tell but which storytelling can. News stories people losing their jobs day by day because of this economic crisis made me more thankful that I still have one and that I am generally doing good at it. If those stories made me rethink about my current work performance and the value that my job has for me and my family then maybe stories like that can inspire my employees to work harder, see the value of their jobs, and deliver better performances.

Communicating Values. In terms of my vision for the department, I believe that the need for clearer and better communication lines is huge. More specifically, the communication of my values to my employees can be considered very crucial. It is through my self-awareness that I have identified this as an opportunity and I am continuing to declare and communicate those values to my followers through storytelling and actions. In addition, I need to be clear about the kinds of values I am talking about before I start to transmit them. Declaring values that are not consistently acted upon may be worse than not declaring any values at all" (Denning, 2005, p. 130). One of the work values I cherish is punctuality. My recent look at the employee attendance record shows that the number of employees coming on time has been dwindling over the months. After talking to the line managers regarding this concern, it has come to my attention that employees' enthusiasm about their jobs has greatly decreased. It is through this that I realized that there should be better and more training opportunities for the employees. New and different learning experiences will surely give the employees something to look forward to everyday. But still, the company has to implement stricter rules regarding attendance so I communicated the importance of punctuality via a personal story of mine. Years ago, I scored a meeting with this executive from a big pharmaceutical company for a possible business opportunity. It was something that I prepared really hard for. My strategies were all ready in tow and my sales pitch was done as flawlessly as I could. However, the night before the "big meeting day," I had to work overtime for another project that was very urgent. Probably because I was so tired that night, I was not able to come to the meeting on time. I rushed my way to the meeting place only to find out that the person I was going to have a meeting with had already left. This taught me the value of punctuality in a really hard way. Regardless of my extensive preparation, everything went down the drain just because I was late. Punctuality more important reflects our respect for other people's valuable time.

Another blind spot probably stems from the fact that I think all I simply need to do is to create the highest performing sales team. Their technical knowledge on sales obviously… [END OF PREVIEW]

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