Companies live a never-ending story: “I’ve got to re-engage my teams.” And there are two never-ending problems in the way:
- Engagement wears off and people slide back into the comfort of routine.
- The bar keeps rising and competitors with more motivation fight their way up.
How do you achieve higher motivation when staff already knows you’re going to try to entice them to work harder? Everyone’s trying to find their “orbit” and find comfort in a “new normal.” Not everybody is up for yet another climb.
SagePresence wants you to leverage the power of story to engage your team. An article I recently read put story in a new light for me personally, which I’ll share in a moment.
In my experience, inspiration is the new motivation, and influence is the only true leadership. Story is the key to both.
Leadership isn’t about bosses and reports. Making someone else do something because you’re higher on the totem pole isn’t leadership, it’s just authority. True leaders win the hearts and minds of people, inspiring them to get behind a vision (an end state) and a mission (an approach to getting there).
Story is one of the core power-sources of influence, because story does four simple things.
- Story gets you to lock in on a main character your audience cares about.
- Story establishes a not-so-happy beginning state that the main character is in.
- Story establishes a happier-ending state that the main character would rather be in.
- Story prescribes a set of actions in the middle that would change the beginning into the end.
If you’re asking yourself, “How can I possibly get my team to feel the way I do?” then you have #1 (Main Character) wrong. You need to put yourself aside and make the people you want to influence the main character. What not-so-happy beginning are they in? What happier-ending situation do they want to be in? How can the actions you want help them get there?
That’s the secret of story power. The action can be what you want, but the situational change has to be what they want.
It’s your job as a leader to connect the dots between what they want and the actions you want them to take. You don’t need them to care about what you care about. You have to start caring about what they care about, and ask yourself how the actions and behaviors you want from your team can help them get to a happier ending they would value.
I just read an article about how Petco leaders achieved 100% engagement from their stores in a brand-differentiating customer experience which would only gain them market-share if it was universally embraced. As I was reading, a new level of story power hit me like a brick – going from story to story-boards to better visualize the journey of words.
As a filmmaker, I’ve made lots of storyboards. They’re little drawings that let you see the story with your eyes, much like a comic book that steps you through the string of movie scenes and shots. But since SagePresence has spent so much time working with speakers, my tendency has been to focus on bringing story structure to the spoken message, and draw my clients away from their tendency to hide within their presentations as the narrator of a PowerPoint.
With that emphasis, I’ve spent more time painting a picture with the structure behind the words, and less time painting the picture with pictures.
Then I read this: “Petco developed three learning map modules that painted a picture through drawings and illustrations, metaphors and questions on the proposed future state of the company.” I thought, “This is story structure, and they’re telling it visually.”
As distant as the content below may be from your annual meeting speech, this comic strip expresses all four parts of story structure in 3 visuals. I’ve never seen nor heard of this comic strip before, but even as I rapidly scrolled through my google image-search window (scanning for “3-frame comic strips”), this one stood out from a hundred others because all four story components were instantly visible.
To harness story-power, you have to see the simple, complete story. You can use more than three visuals to tell it, but spot the simple story first, and then elaborate. Let’s break this comic story down:
- The Main Character is a group which happens to be a mix of Aliens and Humans. (It’s a “we” story.)
- We are fighting. That’s our not-so-happy Beginning, a situation that prevails until…
- An action occurs in the Middle. We recognize we’re all tired of fighting, creating a change to…
- A happier Ending where we find a new state of love and acceptance of each other.
The storytelling brilliance of this comic strip goes beyond its simplicity to the way it captures emotion.
- The Beginning frame unveils the feelings around the troublesome situation. I see fear and anger.
- In the Middle frame, the action (again, recognition) brings sentimental tears and relief.
- The Ending bursts with joy.
Emotions take story from situational progression to an experience of change. If you try to visualize a story, pay attention to what your images say about the feelings around the beginning and ending situations. In contrast to the alien comic, look at the following strip and ask yourself if the visuals communicate the experience of change or not. (I blurred out the text so you have only the visuals to cue from.)
Clearly this comic strip has a Beginning, a Middle action, and an Ending, but we can’t tell if it’s good, bad, or something else. These visuals speak to a “flat” experience – no change at all.
With good story structure, and visuals that help you capture the emotional experience of change, you can influence your team.
Your team members are already motivated, and their motivation ties to the situations they’re in now that they don’t like, and what’s possible for them that they’d really like better. If you can help them get from where they are now to where they want to be using the action you want them to take, you can inspire them to embrace your desired action.
Being inspirational is a lot like being a magnet. A magnet doesn’t contain any magnetic energy. If you take them into space, magnets don’t stick to anything. What they’re doing on Earth is harnessing the magnetic power that’s all around them.
Motivational speakers don’t carry motivation around in their pockets. They harness the motivational power that’s all around them.
Motivation resides in the people you’re talking to, so use story structure to inspire it out of them. In short, apply your middle (action or information) to bridge the gap between where your team is and where they’d rather be. If you can help them grasp that the action you want is their ticket to the place they want to be, the motivation will surface.
Words will help them grasp the thought, and visuals can help them see it. Please share with us how you have used visuals to inspire your teams. Have you reflected the full story in a simple visual way?
Tell us what you’ve done, or try it and tell us what happens.
And don’t forget to contact us for a free lunch-and-learn so we can share the power of story with your team in person, and check out our products page for a copy of our best-selling book and supporting products that leverage story power to your team’s success!
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