The thread that I try to weave through most what I do (including my writing in this space) is that communication can be strategic on the smallest (micro) levels. By strategic, I mean trying to get the most for the least. By communication, I mean storytelling through writing, talking or meeting with people. Sample supply-chain related stories (aka – agendas) include: sharing the upside of the switch to centralized purchasing, understanding why a process is not working in practice, or encouraging diverse groups to share all their information.
Some ears may be deaf to these storylines, but there are three things that I think can help you be more strategic in telling your story (even to the metaphorical hard of hearing).
Three enablers of strategic storylines
1 – Seed the idea
Communication works on networks social, informal, or otherwise. People may pay more attention to things that are being discussed. Favourable discussion can lead to: “everyone is talking about how good this is, so it must be good.”
Deferring judgment, I bring you the social media example of the “tweet sheet,” which is, under one definition, a list of “key messages” that you send to your friends so they can independently “tweet” your messages to their networks and beyond.
Judgmental note: I was gobsmacked when I heard this. Isn’t social media supposed to be this bastion of authenticity? Everyone has an agenda!
The ethical discussion is beyond the scope of this column. Seeding ideas is one way to tell a story. You may be able to plant seeds in ways that fit with your way of operating.
2 – Use what’s there
Again, I draw from a marketing discipline. A consultant relayed the story of working with a producer of breakfast cereal: “One of the things that kept coming up was the stat that a cereal box is read X number of times. Finally someone decided to capitalize on that real estate!” Similar rational sits behind using the cleverly placed ads on bathroom walls.
Where are people looking already? Does the company newsletter attract eyes? Is there a place where people tend to wait (e.g. outside a particular directors office)?
Again, be wary of the line between “clever and subtle” and “overt and cheesy.” Best to keep well on the former side.
3 – Question the change
I was in a discussion last month that questioned the entire premise of “buy-in.” The logic being that, looking back at theories of motivation, people won’t do what they don’t want to do. (I was in a discussion yesterday where a client had recently realized that “power” was the answer.)
Asking the “what if” question of yourself gives you what you need to go forward. So, what if we can’t centralize all purchasing? What if we can’t get reliable information from sales? The steepness of the downside may illustrate how much effort you put into this.
My secret hope is that everyone makes their case well, and the result is actions and directions that serve the best interests of all involved. (My “best” includes a good dose of sustainability.) I will get you my “tweet sheet” and cereal box decals, if you want to help get this message out. Of course, we all realize that much of this could be (1) happening already, and (2) impossible to achieve. More of 1 will put me out of business, and I haven’t “bought into” 2 just yet.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE MAY NEWSLETTER ON supplychaincanada.org
The theme of telling “the truth” vs. telling “your story” recurs in the world of business communication. (The question of the existence of “the truth” opens a philosophical conversation best kept to coffee houses and whiskey bars… We want practice, please!) One specific application of business communication is in trying to find a job. A dripping irony is that “the truth” probably won’t get you a job.
“Hi there. I am really good at analyzing business data to improve supply chain performance. I get bored pretty easily if I am not challenged. I have a low tolerance for arbitrary rules, and I hate to be rushed to make a decision when I know I need to do more analysis.”
However, as the storyteller of your skills and abilities, you carry a responsibility to align your story with your truth. A colleague of mine shared some insight from one of his field contacts:
“The context and the technical expertise is the easiest type of knowledge to share with a new hire. Give me someone who has a desire and ability to learn, and can work with others in a team environment. That is the kind of person that I want to hire.”
Apparently, there are challenges in filling this particular bill. Even if those are the requirements, I guarantee you won’t see a job description that says only:
“Wanted: someone who can learn our systems reasonably quickly, and work with our people reasonably well. Good benefits. Pay commensurate with experience.”
JOB EXPERIENCE, EDUCATION, SKILLS and ABILITIES are parts of your storyline (and maybe even headings on your resume), however the underlying questions you face are: Can you do this job? And, if you can do it, do you want to do it for us? Deeper questions include, “have your overstated your qualifications and abilities?” and, especially if you a shifting careers, “do you have a realistic appraisal of your value (in this new marketplace)?”
You may be able to defer the answers to these questions almost indefinitely. I will suggest that for all concerned, truthful answers to these create the most value for employee and employer. Everyone expects a degree of story, especially in the written communications (Cover letters, C.V., resumes, etc.). The interview process, especially the latter rounds, provides an opportunity for both sides to explore and share a bit of truth. On both sides of the equation, it is dangerous for the story to stray too far from it!
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