An exciting future story reframes present difficulties as “worth it.” Big projects and new challenges can be difficult and frustrating particularly for people who weren’t in on the decision-making process. Without a vision, meaningless frustrations suck the life energy out of a group. With an engaging vision huge obstacles shrink to small irritants on the path to a worthwhile goal. (Note: Vision stories that promise more than they deliver do more damage than good. So be careful.)
A lot of people mess up vision stories by using numbers and dates. Numbers and dates are the language of goals and objectives. A vision story is metaphorical. It is very specific and uses sensory detail in order to be universal in emotional appeal (yeah, I know that is a paradox). Martin Luther King’s paraphrase of Amos 5:24 “… and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ “ Now THAT is a vision. Emotions come from sensory detail, not numbers or dates. For vision stories we use the four buckets a little differently:
A time you prevailed: Think of a similar situation when you surmounted similar obstacles.
A time you gave up: When did you let an opportunity pass?
A mentor’s or a historical allegory of perseverance: Every problem under the sun, has been faced before by someone else prevailed. Profile a biography, company, political movement, or historical event and make it yours. This kind of story is useful as a vision and may deliver creative ideas for new strategies.
A book or movie about achieving a vision: Any movie with a team or hero overcoming “insurmountable” obstacles work. Pull your story from two to three scenes fully described. I don’t know anything about copyright laws, but video nights with popcorn might be fun. Think about movies where sports teams came from behind or the underdog wins…whatever fits.
Beginning a start-up requires a powerful vision story. The vision can be woven into daily life with reminders: nicknames, jargon, regular events, and annual awards. If you avoid corny, and keep it fun – the vision stays meaningful and relevant.
Any group with low morale needs a vision story accompanied with visible action that proves it is not just talk. Take care of the basics before you do any silly stuff. Once the basics of walking your talk are covered you can weave a book or movie in with fun activities. For instance if you used the movie “Cars” you might hold car races (with small remote control cars) every Friday afternoon for the best parking space and only the three top performers, best rated, whatever, get to race.
“Okay, on three, everyone take two steps to the right.”
“If they can’t tell us apart, no one gets in trouble.” If you’re afraid to stand alone, you’ll never stand out. A cohesive team can move quickly, but a scared team isn’t going anywhere fast.
“Concrete wall.. Dam.”
Ahhh, the frustration of working in large organizations. If you don’t have a sense of humor you’re miserable and chances are you just make everyone else miserable.
“What do you mean I’m not approachable? I AM smiling.”
Your face tells employees a story. They wonder do I tell the truth? Or do I let some other sucker do it…later?
“Have I ever told you the one about the time I grew back from just one arm?”
There are some stories that get old. Yes, they were amazing the first time we heard them. Fifteen years later, not so much.
“Personal space? What do you mean I’m in your personal space?”
Revisiting the original vision story can soothe petty frustrations brought on my late hours, too much caffeine and purported refrigerator thefts.
“So I know I’m the new guy, but I have some really great ideas. Seriously, they are great ideas!”
Enthusiasm is often viewed as naivete’. Slow down! Tell a story that builds your credibility. Let your ideas reveal themselves to your listeners.
“What I could teach you, my dear. Come closer and sit awhile.”
Wasps match some human behaviors: dominance, deceipt, and opportunism. All queens start alone, and manage the hive as a hierarchy. Everyone has a story, don’t be afraid to ask.
“Call in the sharks. That new fish is getting on my nerves.”
People (and fish apparently) will “kill the messenger.” Wrap the truth in story and avoid the sharks.
Most. Boring. Powerpoint. Ever.
No one will ever complain if you replace a powerpoint slide with a good story.
“Here are the chocolate candy samples. Maybe a lighter brown?”
Not flattering, but we remember “ick” details. Disgust is one of the original emotions. Just don’t overdo it.
“When they talked about transferring us I really expected we’d have a desk and everything.”
If you want to improve morale it takes more than telling a new story. The story needs to be true.
“HQ promoted me to be team leader. Correct me if I’m wrong…but do you see a team here?”
Before you get mad, consider explaining your frustration with a story to put your listener in your chair and see what you see.
Please just look at the new budget. Pretty please?
Some stories last a day. If you asked for too much money, you could plaster this little guy’s face all over the office. Do your own campaign on frugality. Wear old clothes. Tell a story.
“Fine. I’ll go to your two day retreat. But I’m not hugging anybody!”
Story feels too touchy-feely for some. Don’t force it. They might cry and get snot on your shoulder.
You want me to what? I don’t know any stories!
Most everyone says this when you ask them to tell a story. Keep prompting, what happened when…? Last big crisis…?
“I’ve heard it all before, you little monkey. Try again.”
New. Original. Unique. Products? Yes. Human needs? Nope. You can still use old stories to understand human needs.
“We didn’t have any problems until you arrived. A little sand in our faces, but no problems.”
Big stories rewrite reality. Welcome fear, it means people care.
WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?
Keep yelling…or ask to hear the story behind that constant suggestion? Listen it out of them and they will see the error in their thinking or you learn something.
“Hey, you can implement any policy you like….it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
There are ten territorial games people can play to block implementation. All are driven by the story they tell themselves.
“I’m your new boss. Allow me to demonstrate the parade rest I expect when I enter the room.”
Military style management can alienate staff and kill creativity. Obedience is the lowest form of cooperation.
“One more bite and we won’t ask again….promise”
Some people are never happy no matter how much you give them. The trick is to teach them to fly and find answers by themselves.
“Tony, give up already. If they really wanted us to fly…they would have given us wings that work.”
Doing more with less makes sense as long as you give staff the tools they need. Give your staff the tools of self awareness, storytelling, and dialogue.
“Having a positive attitude won’t make you more successful…but it will irritate your enemies enough to make it worthwhile.”
Sometimes the most valuable thing a group can do is lighten up a little. Creativity is more accessible when people are relaxed and having fun.
“Statistics say one in every four people suffer from mental illness. Look around. If the three people closest to you seem okay, it’s you.”
Sometimes a work group needs some good ol’ fashioned therapy. Telling the truth, hearing the truth, venting emotion. Afterwards everyone is exhausted, incredibly relieved that it’s over, and ready to get back to work.
“The entire team had our hair done just like the boss’s. It’s your turn.”
There is more than one right way to accomplish goals. Diversity isn’t just driven from the top down. All staff play a part in rewarding diversity.