The fluffy things that drive hard data

I recently was interviewed by Business Insider magazine for my thoughts on what are common things that growth businesses tend to overlook.* 

As I was chatting on the phone, I realised the key points I was making weren’t simply an issue for startups or growth businesses, but just as applicable for the established organisation. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe it applies to every business, whether you’re a solopreneur or a multinational.

So you’re probably asking out loud at your desk what is this genius you’re referring to? Perhaps even with a commanding fist-thump on the desk to ensure if people walk past they think you’re not just crazy talking to yourself but gettin’ stuff done.

Well brace yourself. Here ‘tis.

A HUGE mistake all businesses make is that they market and story tell outside their business, but don’t work hard enough to market and story tell inside their business. 

Now don’t get me wrong, communicating to people outside your business - clients, customers and stakeholders - why you do-what-you-do is incredibly important. More specifically, communicating what drives us to do-what-we-do is how we build raving fans. That’s good, if you’re doing that well, don’t stop.

But how well do you communicate this internally to your staff? How well as a leader do you communicate the story for your team?

Why sharing stories matters

Most organisations try to implement the following equation

Objectives = Outcomes

For example

Deliver higher profits (objective) by achieving higher sales (outcome)

Yet the truth is this approach is hit and miss at best. Objectives don’t always transfer into outcomes, and in many cases can leave smart people scratching their heads in bewilderment. What the?

Y’see here’s what the clever folk do. (there’s a very big difference between smart people and clever folk) Clever folk use the following equation

Objectives > Narrative + Emotion = Outcomes

Whilst our objective might be to deliver higher profits, what’s going to be the story that people can belong to and importantly contribute a verse to? Throughout history, great objectives have been achieved through a compelling narrative. Martin Luther King did it brilliantly by sharing his dream; Steve Jobs’ created a renaissance at Apple by getting them to think different; and Tony Tsieh?? did what no-one thought possible by getting a call centre to deliver happiness.

They all did it through story. And they sold that story as hard internally - to their inner sanctum - as they did externally to the public.

Sounds romantic, but it’s hard data

While it all might sound a little fluffy, the truth is creating a narrative for a group to follow is bloody hard work. There’s no seven-simple-steps to creating a story that will capture the hearts and minds of people. It takes effort, creativity and an iterative process; you might not get it right the first time.

But when you do land a story people can believe - and more importantly take ownership of and pass on - you get something magic happen.**

Stories drive emotions. And emotions are the key driver for behaviour. And behaviour is how you get stuff done. And that’s cause for a little bit of high-fiving right there. ‘Cept if you’re and introvert; maybe it’s just a head nod from across the room.

The process is all about face

Not your actual face. About-face. Y’know, back to front.

If you want to create a compelling story in your organisation, which in turn drives a collective emotion, you need to start by identifying the desired emotion first. By understanding what emotion you’re after, then you can find a story to fit.

So which emotion do you want to achieve? It might sound a little daunting, but stick with me, I’ll make it easy. Come take my hand, this won’t hurt a bit... 

We’ve spoken in the past about the two primary emotions, Love and Fear. I would suggest that if you want people to follow, fear is eliminated from the game straight-up. So we just have love and it’s secondary emotional forms to choose from. Easy-peasy right? According to us, there’s only 8 you need to decide upon. 

Affection - an expression of fondness for another

Courage - feeling uncomfortable - even fearful - yet choosing to act

Care - anticipating another’s needs; to look after

Joy - deep feeling of pleasure or happiness

Optimism - confidence for the future; that tomorrow will be better

Pride - a deep satisfaction of achievement; a high self-esteem

Surprise - to deliver the unexpected or unusual

Zest - to show great enthusiasm or energy

So what emotion does your team or business need? Is it courage? Maybe people need to start taking risks...they’ve been doing the same stuff for too long. It worked for Jobs at Apple. 

Or perhaps it’s care? Your safety practices inside the organisation are slipping. Maybe you need your staff to be more considerate to customers. This emotion certainly served Martin Luther King brilliantly.

Once you’ve decided on the emotion you want to see collectively embodied, then create the narrative in your own voice, not in someone else’s, in the language your people use each day.

That’s how you turn objectives into outcomes.

Alfveeder sayin’


*Before you make any smart-alec response, I’m reliably told the article would actually be words n’ stuff, and not just pictures

**Actually it isn’t magic per-se, it’s tiny neurotransmitters firing in our synapses, but hey, magic probably sounds a whole bunch sexier