Storytelling: Begin With The End in Mind

Stories and narratives that touch us emotionally have power to transform us. When hearing a moving speech, story or talk, we feel that it is delivered effortlessly but we know it doesn’t happen on its own.

I have learned that:

A performance that feels effortless is often the peak point of great preparation behind the scenes.

As leaders, our ability to tell stories that resonate at an emotional level with others is at the heart of elevating aspirations and sparking change.

Bernadette Jiwa is one of my favorite bloggers because she packs a lot of substance in a few words. She recently wrote a short post on “How to Craft a Powerful Message” which outlines three steps to create a story that resonates.

Most speakers focus on what they want to/have to share. But great storytelling starts with an understanding of the audience, aligning your message to needs of the context and then delivering it in a way that creates impact.

Here is a quick visual summary of the post:


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Not Invented Here

Organizations, teams and individuals are obsessed with doing things themselves when a similar or better solution is already available elsewhere. Thinking that if you have to get it done right then you have to do it yourself is no less than some kind of obsession.

I have seen people rejecting better ideas just because they did not contribute in the ideation. Organizations spending enormous amount of effort in developing internal systems when a majority of what they want is available off-the-shelf. Teams trying to solve technical problems themselves when a solution is available already in other teams sitting under the same roof!

One of the possible reasons for ‘not invented here’ syndrome is that people find it hard to accept (or trust) something that they have not created or contributed to. Fear (and insecurity) of using someone else’s solution may also be a reason. Sometimes, people just don’t know that better solutions are readily available.

In any case, valuable time is lost, money is spent and opportunities are missed just because you choose to invest your effort instead of reusing what is already available.

In lean terms, this is a huge waste.

Because “not invented here” is almost the same as “lets reinvent the wheel”, unless there are strong and legitimate reasons to invent a newer kind of wheel.

Optimize the Whole

When we think in parts, we improve in parts. Most of the business improvement is the game of ‘sub-optimization’. You optimize pieces without looking at the whole.

When a customer reports problem with your software, you do an incidental root cause analysis and address the code quality problem. You deploy tools, introduce new processes, measure constantly and yet – a few months later, you encounter a similar problem.

But when you look at the whole system, you might figure out that the real root cause is in something which is immeasurable yet important – may be, collaboration with other teams or how you sell. May be, inefficiencies rooted in how you support your customers after product is delivered.

We optimize the silos and the whole misses our radar. If ‘customer centricity’ is one of your key values, you should consider optimizing the whole customer journey with your organization – not just your development processes.

Often, we also optimize that which is measured. If your metrics are narrow, you will never be able to focus on systemic metrics that may really help your business and the customer.

Here are a few important things to consider when you optimize the whole:

We need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

  • Focus on Value Stream. Value for customer is created in a series of interactions between various processes that starts right from first contact with the customer. Value stream mapping is a lean tool to identify a series of events right from conception to delivery of product or service.
  • Define what “complete” system means. Too often, we think of complete product as a set of completed features. For customers though, complete product is an experience they receive through each interaction with the organization. It helps to define what ‘complete’ means.
  • Measure Right. When you have narrow functional metrics, people in each function will work  hard to achieve their goals and yet, organization will not realize benefits of having such metrics. However, if you have more systemic metrics (and rewards) where people win only when the system wins, it aligns everyone to the same set of goals to ensure that ultimately, customer wins too.

Sub-optimization in organizations is a thinking problem. When you fail to see the whole, you undermine your capabilities as an organization.

And this may be the precise thing that holds you back from delivering a superior performance to your customers.

Great Quotes: Focus on Experience

In a competitive world obsessed with goals, people recommend that we should periodically review our performance. Performance appraisals in organizations are almost a necessary evil. The problem with focusing excessively on our ‘performance’ is that performance is always judged by others, by some external entity. When you constantly try to align yourself to external expectations, you dilute your own expression and voice.

I read the following quote in Peter Bergman’s recent Harvard Business Review post titled “Stop Focusing on Your Performance”. He says,

When you’re performing, your success is disturbingly short-lived. As soon as you’ve achieved one milestone or received a particular standing ovation, it’s no longer relevant. Your unending question is: what’s next?

When you’re experiencing though, it’s not about the end result, it’s about the moment. You’re not pursuing a feeling after, you’re having a feeling during. You can’t be manipulated by a fickle, outside measure because you’re motivated by a stable internal one.

Here is a related quote from my 2010 post titled “Enjoy the Process”:

Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.

The joy is in the work itself. Focus on experience and performance will eventually take care of itself.

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Photo Credit: Stephan Comelli’s Flickr Photostream

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Enjoy the Process

Enjoy the Process – 2

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The Importance of “Know Why”?

Knowledge industry, particularly software, is full of people who possess “know-how” – knowledge of how to get something done. Give them a task, and they will be able to apply their technical skills (read ‘know-how’) to accomplish it.

A lot of people possess a very sound “know-what” – knowledge of facts, figures and methods. Give them a topic and it is likely that they know the theory and facts. “Know-how” shines with “Know-what”.

Sales and marketing folks focus on “know-who” – people they know, have met and have a business relationship with.

There is a proliferation of know-how-what-who people, however, what we need more in businesses today is “know-why” people – those who possess knowledge of the purpose of doing something, insight into the meaning of work.

In lean terms, doing everything else without knowing the purpose and meaning is a “waste” – because everything that is done without understanding the purpose is a cost.

Understanding the purpose, context and meaning requires something more than simple “explicit knowledge”. It requires curiosity, implicit insight, ability to connect the dots, question our work, think about system and understand the invisible currents.

Purpose is powerful tool to keep people aligned, establish a vision (for team and organization), inspire team members and guide large scale strategic changes.

“Know-why” is at the core of excellence and is a pillar on which improvements are (and should be) done.

Given business priorities and rate of change, it is very easy to get carried away by tactical tasks, speed and progress. Corporate culture rewards speed, action and progress. But if you are running fast in the wrong direction, you are prone to accidents.

To avoid this, it is crucial that we know why we are doing what we are doing. Is it adding value? What problems are we solving? Is it really worth it? Why?

So, once in a while, it helps to slow down. Step back. Question our work, see the broader picture and flex our “know why” muscle.

“Know-why” empowers how, what and who. We surely need people who know how and what to do – but we need more and more people/leaders who combine what and how with a powerful why.

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Join in the conversation: How can you instil a strong sense of “know-why” in your organization/team/self? Is there a dearth of “know-why” in business today? What can we do about it? Let your ideas flow in comments below.

Metrics: Are They Mapped With Your Business Objectives?

You can measure almost anything in your business, but if those metrics don’t serve a real business objectives, they are just numbers with no real meaning. Measurement is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I have seen extreme cases where organizations either measure so much or they don’t measure anything at all. Both extremes are dangerous, because it de-focuses people from doing the right things.

A lot of business leaders. quality consultants and improvement experts are obsessed with fancy metrics that may not have direct relevance to the business objectives. Whether measuring a project or a business, here are a five steps to map your metrics with your business objectives:

  • Know your goals: Identify what are your strategic, tactical and operational goals. Understanding your business challenges and goals is the first most important step. If you don’t know why you are measuring something, you will get numbers and you won’t know what to do with them. It won’t help.
  • Identify metrics: What metrics can effectively help you meet your goals? For example, if you reduce your defect rates, you can keep your customers happy. Reducing overrun on your project can have direct impact on your bottom lines. You get the point.
  • Identify impact: Some metrics directly impact the goal, while others may have an indirect impact. Identify whether identified measurement has direct or indirect impact. A great way to do this is to draw a two dimensional table with business objectives horizontally and measurements vertically. Map the impact and you will have a great view of your business goals and impact of those metrics.
  • Establish operational procedures: You can now establish processes and methods to collect the data, frequency and consolidation mechanism. This is also a great way to ensure that all your operational processes are aligned to perform in a way that it satisfies at least one or more business objectives.
  • Don’t forget the “invisibles”: My earlier post “The Invisibles in Business Performance” touched upon one of Deming’s seven deadly diseases – “Running a company on visible figures alone” and listed out some areas of your business that cannot be measured, but can have direct impact on your business. Striking balance between managing these invisible aspects, managing by visible numbers and focusing on people seems to be the optimal route to manage the business.

As I mentioned in my earlier post – “With visible figures alone, a business is run. By managing the invisibles together with the visible figures, a high performance, sustainable and scalable organization is built.”

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Note: My book ‘#QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project’ explores the people, process and leadership aspects to build a constantly improving organization culture. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Bonus: Read my post (How to) Have a Great Monday! – and have a wonderful start into the week!