Telling stories make recognition—and associated lessons–memorable

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Use stories to make your message memorable. When recognizing a staff member publicly, it’s not enough to say, “Jane was a great help as we were getting ready to meet with a potential client.” Create a story that explains what Jane did and why it was important.

Begin by describing the situation Jane faced (upset customer, discovering a shortage of needed supplies, etc.) and what might have happened if she hadn’t acted as she did. How did she resolve the situation? Why was what she did important? What was the positive outcome? How do you feel about what she did?

“I had asked Jane to help me prepare to meet with a group that had the potential to become new clients. She wanted to include our new brochure in the information packages she was preparing, but discovered that they had not arrived from the printer. She knew these would be critical to our presentation. Our chances of landing the contract would be hurt if we didn’t have this important information. When she called, the printer told her the brochures were just coming off the press and wouldn’t be delivered until the day after the meeting. Without being told to do so, Jane drove to the printing plant to pick up the brochures. She added them to the folders we distributed at the meeting, and having this information helped us close the deal. We really appreciated Jane for taking the initiative—which is one of our values—to do what needed to be done.”

By using a story when recognizing Jane, the manager did more that express her appreciation. The story of Jane’s success was also a reminder to others of a company value—showing initiative—and a concrete example of behaviour that reflected this value.

In their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath write about the value of stories to prepare others to face similar situations. “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

The story of Jane’s contribution roughly follows the “Magic V-Shaped Storytelling Formula” developed by Dave Lieber, a professional speaker and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Learn more about this storytelling technique—and experience an enjoyable example of a story well-told—by watching Dave’s TED Talk.

You, the readers have spoken: the 9 most popular blog posts of 2016

For me, writing is a selfish activity. I enjoy and am energized by the process. Putting my thoughts on paper forces me to focus my thinking. Through the process, I clarify what I believe about hiring, engaging, recognizing and retaining staff. Few articles ever end the way I expected them to when I first put pen to paper (Yes, I’m a bit of a writing Luddite. I enjoy the tactile experience of grasping a pen. Most first drafts are written long-hand, usually while sitting in a neighbourhood coffee shop). Every article goes through several revisions and is reviewed by my editor.

It’s also important that others receive value from what I publish. I appreciate readers’ responses, both the positive comments, which motivate me to continue to write, and those from readers who disagree, which stimulate my thinking. It’s also valuable to know which posts were most popular—and which were read by only a few people. That’s the value of year-end statistics with wordpress.com.

Here are the most popular posts of 2016. How does this list of most-read articles compare to the topics that are most relevant to you?

7 Questions to Ask to Recognize Staff Appropriately

I’m gratified to see this article on the list because recognizing staff in Appropriate ways is

Thank You Note & Coffee

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an important ingredient of meaningful messages of appreciation. This post first appeared in 2013 and has been at or near the top of the most popular list every year since. When you personalize recognition, it shows that you know the recipients as individuals, understand what’s important to them and are aware of their recognition preferences. By recognizing staff in Appropriate ways, you strengthen your message of appreciation.

Top 7 Ways to Improve Hiring Interviews

The purpose of an interview is to help you identify candidates with the potential to become top performers. Implement these seven suggestions and you will soon discover you are making the right hiring decisions, more often.

Child’s plea to a NHL team a reminder that family is important

Did the letter written by 11-year-old Jordyn Leopold to the Minnesota Wild’s coaches influence the team’s general manager’s decision to obtain her father in a National Hockey League trade? I don’t know, but this story does demonstrate the importance of family. No matter the work they do, most employees will tell you that family is more important to them. They want to spend time with their partners and children, just as children told researchers that the present they crave the most is their parents’ attention (just as staff members want to know you’re paying attention to them and what they do).

7 ways to increase the impact of your messages of appreciation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are seven steps, each of which will make your message of appreciation incrementally stronger. Spoiler alert: this article makes the case for handwritten thank-you notes, delivered through the post office.

The most dangerous question interviewers ask

This article was inspired by a conversation (an interview, actually), which I couldn’t help overhearing at my favourite coffee shop (which is one of the benefits of going there to write). I listened in amazement as the interviewer unwittingly handed control to the candidate, with a commonly asked, seemingly innocuous question.

Prepare to assess candidates by anticipating their responses to questions

Managers frequently ask questions during interviews without any thought of what they expect to hear from candidates. What would a good answer sound like? What would they expect a top performer to say? What would be unacceptable? This article challenges managers to anticipate the answers they might hear from candidates and create a rubric against which to assess the responses.

Individual stories connect people in ways facts and figures never will

Stories are powerful. Readers and listeners remember stories—they don’t remember facts and figures. This article was written after I spoke to leaders of Rotary clubs from Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia, Northwestern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories about how they can use stories to explain what their service clubs do. While this article was written for Rotarians, its message is valid for anyone who wishes others to understand what their organization does.

7 techniques to reduce candidates’ interview-induced stress

A person draws a circle and slash over the word Stress to symbol

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Being interviewed is stressful. Some argue that this is a good thing. The more stress the better; we’ll see how the candidate handles it. I don’t view it that way. My experience is that, when under stress, many people retreat into themselves and say very little. This is not what we want during interviews. It’s important that candidates talk about themselves and their experiences. This article, along with another about what to say, focuses on ways to get the candidates to feel more comfortable and to open up during the interview. In a related article, I suggest what interviewers can do to reduce the stress they may feel, since the hiring decision they are about to make could have an impact on their organization for years to come.

Devastated by images of the Fort McMurray wildfire

The wildfire that destroyed 2,600 homes in Fort McMurray hit me particularly hard. I lived in the city for 35 years, including 32 in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood where most of the homes were lost. Seeing what happened prompted me to want to support the recovery effort, making a commitment that I honoured last month.

Individual stories connect people in ways facts and figures never will

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Storytelling is an important communication tool that helps build understanding and commitment. This was the message my friend and colleague Jerome Martin and I took to the Rotary District 5370 Fall Learning Assembly, held in Edmonton on Saturday, October 22. Participants included members of the district leadership team, presidents-elect and other Rotarians from clubs from across northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories, northwest Saskatchewan and northeast British Columbia.

As a followup to this session, Jerome and I have each written an article on the use of storytelling to create a public image. While our focus was Rotary clubs, we believe these lessons can be applied to many aspects of our personal and professional lives.

Click here to read Jerome’s article on the importance of telling your story.

The image from September 2015 was disturbing: the lifeless body of a three-year-old boy, clad in a red T-shirt, lying face down on a Turkish beach where he had washed ashore.

Many of us may have thought, “That’s terrible. Someone should do something to help these people.”

That could have been the end of it. We were all aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. We had read newspaper articles and seen the pictures on television screens. The boy was another victim of the war in Syria and the hopes of families to escape the turmoil of their homeland.

Typically, these tragic images are driven from our minds by a parade of other, equally horrific pictures of other victims of war, famine and natural disasters. But there is a reason why this event did not quickly fade from of our collective memory.

Within days of the photo appearing, a Vancouver hairdresser stepped forward. She identified the boy on the beach as her brother’s son. Having escaped Syria, her brother had hoped to bring his family to Canada.

This was no longer just about the tragic end of a young life on a remote, rocky beach. The story of Alan Kurdi had become a Canadian story—one that galvanized Canadians’ attention on the plight of Syrian refugees.

Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the United States House of Representatives is credited with coining the phrase, “All politics are local.”

I believe that journalists would make a similar observation. “All news is local.” They understand that readers and viewers become more engaged if there is a local angle to a big event or major announcement. They use the experiences of just one person, one family or one organization to report the larger story.

  • We are better able to understand changes to the Canada Child Benefit when we hear a mother tell how it will impact her family.
  • We care more when a report describes how a Canadian aide worker—ideally with a connection to the local community— is helping in the wake of an earthquake half a world away.
  • We are interested in the insights of a Canadian living in an American neighbourhood where she is surrounded by Trump supporters.

The appeal of this type of reporting is not only the local angle, but that the reporters are telling stories. They are not just providing facts and figures.

Most of us love stories. We fondly remember our parents reading bedtime stories. As adults we read novels, watch TV dramas and go to the movies.

Suppose J.K. Rowling had written a book filled with statistics and historical facts about an educational institution—when the school was founded, the number of students enrolled by year, a list of courses offered, names of some of its illustrious grads, etc. This isn’t the formula to produce an international bestseller. We would never have heard of Hogwarts and Rowling might still be on welfare.

But she didn’t write a fact-filled book. She told us about the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. She told us stories.

Often the answer when Rotarians are asked, “What is Rotary?” goes something like this:

“Rotary is the world’s oldest service club. Paul Harris and four other businessmen established the first club in Chicago in 1905. Since then, Rotary has spread to more than 200 countries and territories. There are 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 32,000 clubs worldwide.”

I could go on, but I won’t. And you shouldn’t either, because no one outside your club cares. In fact, most Rotarians don’t really care either.

A better response would be to reframe the question: “Why are you a Rotarian? What is your Rotary story?”

As the media demonstrates daily, the best way to inform and explain is to tell the stories of individuals. The story of Alan Kurdi connected us emotionally with the plight of Syrian refugees.

Use your Rotary story to help people understand what Rotarians do—and to care about what you do. They may show polite interest, but likely won’t really care that your club serves meals to the homeless, that members of your club mentor students at the local high school or that your club supports a medical team that travels to a developing country. But your story can create an emotional connection that makes them care:

  • What did you see when you looked into the eyes of a homeless woman when you filled her plate with food? How did that make you feel?
  • How did a student react when he understood a math concept for the first time? How did that make you feel?
  • What did a patient say when he discovered he was pain-free for the first time in years? How did that make you feel?

What does your club do? What difference does it make? And how does that make you feel?

What the photo and story of Alan Kurdi did was put a face on the plight of Syrian refugees. It’s difficult to get our minds around the concept of 4.8 million refugees, but it’s easy to comprehend the tragic tale of one little three-year-old in a red T-shirt on a remote, rocky beach in Turkey.

No one will remember that there are 1.2 million Rotarians in more that 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries, but they will remember your story, the one that answers the question, “Why am I a Rotarian?” Now, go tell you story—to other Rotarians, to your family and friends, and to your community. Become Rotary’s image in your world.

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p.s. Dave Lieber, a columnist for The Dallas Morning News, is a master storyteller. In this TEDx talk, Dave describes his V-Shaped Storytelling Formula. It is well worth viewing.