Why A Culture Book Is The First Thing You Should Give To Your New Employees

Do you remember what your first day at a new organization was like? Unless you started your own business from scratch or are a freelancer like me (which is a business of its own, with only one person trying to do everything under the sun) chances are you walked in on the first day to be greeted by the HR and was handed an access card, given some sort of orientation/office-tour and got directed to your desk with an Employee Handbook that you had to read in order to understand what life at your new company was going to be like.

Yay? Well, no. Chances are you read it once (best-case scenario) or gave it a cursory glance (more likely scenario) to see what timings you had to maintain, what penalties applied for signing in late and figuring out how many leaves you are allowed in a year before placing the Handbook in your desk drawer that lies there forgotten for the rest of eternity.

Now imagine we reverse roles. You are the one introducing a new employee to the world within your organization. Would you still want to give them that Handbook and have them forget about it the very next day? What if instead, that Handbook could be elevated to something a lot more exciting so that it becomes a book of inspiration and creativity and stays that way every single day for all your employees?

Welcome, the Culture Book.

Why a Culture Book trumps a traditional Employee Handbook

Think of your employee as a customer. You’re not likely to forget your customer in a hurry after you’ve closed a deal with them. You will work hard to keep them engaged so that you can deliver value to them for an entire lifetime and also so that they are more than just a customer, they are your friends who are vested in your company’s success. It’s the same case with employees.

A Culture Book engages an employee from the very first day, the very first minute of their stepping foot in your door. It may very well tell your new guys “how things are done here” but it also goes way beyond that. It shows them how important and intrinsic every single person really is to the company and why doing their best every day is not going to be just a personal achievement but have ripple effects across the entire company.

People start companies because they believe in something very strongly. And companies are not just a vision statement pinned up on a wall. Companies are passions. They are people. They are processes. A Culture Book encapsulates and articulates all of this in a manner so that the new kids on the block don’t just understand the rules of the game, but are infused with excitement and get in to win not a specific match but an entire tournament.

So what’s this supposedly magical document supposed to contain?

This is your company’s scrapbook. Seriously. To turn your values and stories into a culture book begin by asking the people already on the inside how it feels to them to be a part of your company. Values are not disconnected from the employees, which is exactly why their experiences count and are a true reflection of what a day in the life of a desk worker or an on-field sales rep in your company is truly like.

Take the case of C4E, an Events Management Agency, whose founder, Saurabh Garg, believes in investing in people who want to take their passions and turn them into highly impactful businesses, brands and careers (or pretty much whatever the employees want to achieve for themselves). I helped them create this Culture Book that highlights how the company actually lives its values, about the choices the people will be making at C4E and how they can make them.

Culture Books show the new insiders the inside view from the view of other insiders. It acts as a guide to a company’s ethos. It highlights a company’s approach to work, life and everything else in between. Values are not just defined within its pages but permeate the very tone and language of the whole document.

A Culture Book is an opportunity for companies to bring out the best in them, that might otherwise have remained hidden from the world. Therein lies its true power.

How are you telling your stories to your people?

If you are a human-centered organization, your numero uno priority is your people. They are your focal point – you need to not only find and support new talent but also invest in them, inspire them and mentor them so that they can find their own shores to sail to.

A Culture Book is a chance for a company to celebrate its brand values internally and externally as well, which is why you shouldn’t shy away from posting it on your website or social media and letting prospective candidates know what’s in it for them. It also acts as a great tool for vendors and partners to understand what the company is like, what it values and whether synergies exist for working together.

Culture Books ought to be something your new joiners can resonate with and are also proud to show off to their friends. The intention is simple – to inspire people to create a workplace where everyone loves to work.

So how exactly are you telling your stories to your people?

If you/your company would like to speak to its new (or existing) employees in an inspiring way through a Culture Book, do drop me a note. Maybe I can help. mailto: sanskriti.n@gmail.com

Personal Branding Matters – Here’s Why

Just as you can use the Internet to find out everything about anything, anyone can use it to find out everything about you. In a way that sounds great. Until you realize that if you’re not in control of the content that is related to you, it can get discomforting, even daunting to manage all the publicity. And what if there is no publicity to be had? What if there is not much that turns up when you Google your own name?

Everyone from your potential customers to colleagues, employees, employers, competitors, journalists and even your friends actually, gather information about you using different channels online. So the question is — what are you doing consciously to establish your persona? What do you rely on to advance your career?

Building a personal brand is not something that should be of interest only if you happen to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer or in a leadership position. Irrespective of what your preferred working model is or what level of managerial position you hold, developing, establishing and managing a personal brand can greatly influence how you are perceived by others. It is a way of promoting your professionalism, your personality, and your ability. This is how you control your professional reputation.

“You have to understand your own personal DNA. Don’t do things because I do them or Steve Jobs or Mark Cuban tried it. You need to know your personal brand and stay true to it.”

GaryVee, the social media guru

On the surface, a lot of people could be doing what you do. Running marketing campaigns for giant brands like Nike. Developing code for AI chatbots and teaching them to respond in a sensitive manner. Creating graphical artworks that look eerily real. And yet, no one can do it exactly the way you do it.

Your human side is more appealing than a bland recitation of bullet points off your company’s powerpoint deck

Have you ever met someone and all you could think of was how hard they were selling themselves? Sometimes, people make the mistake of focusing on making a quick transaction and closing a deal. They make a lot of effort to sell their product, convince the prospect that they have a unique edge and that their product will transform lives. That’s highly myopic. The value of developing a long-term meaningful relationship can escape the equation in such cases.

We have all been taught the clear, concise, formal tone to take during our business communication classes. But do your articles, your talks, your presentations have to be lacking a soul? What if instead, you employed a tone that is uniquely yours, complete with all your quirks and humor?

Storytelling techniques are very effective in building an emotional bond with your audience. When you speak your truths you change how someone understands and connects with you. It spares you from having to put on a front or sound hollow. Personal branding allows you to humanize yourself as you interact with your audience.

You stand out from the crowd and people not only get to know you but actively seek you out

Personal branding is more than just showcasing your expertise. It is about being transparent and allowing others to learn from your experiences. It shows why you matter and by extension, why what you do, matters too. Your audience needs to believe you first before they will ever believe anything you are trying to sell to them. People want to associate themselves with those people whom they genuinely like. Brands like Apple and Disney don’t sell the idea of their products. They sell their vision. And they have leaders who are always engaged with their audiences.

Personal branding is the way for you to do just that. The aim is to build deep relationships with your audience because once you have done that, they will follow you wherever you go, irrespective of whether you change your organization, your industry or even your career path.

You gain greater clarity about your life and can focus on your goals more effectively

Personal branding does not mean you have to start talking about everything under the sun or cultivate opinions on what’s trending every day and start tweeting about it incessantly. Before you even begin to talk or write or speak, you have to ask yourself – Who am I?

Remember how that was the very first essay you wrote in school? How that, even today, is one of the most popular questions asked by employers when opening an interview with a prospective candidate? Personal branding is about expanding that narrative, continuously, consistently. You need to identify your strengths and vulnerabilities. Especially your vulnerabilities. Before you sell your product or your organization or your cause to potential customers, you need to show them that you care. But mostly, you need to convince them that you are like them, that they can relate to you, and can use your experience to improve their lives.

It takes some introspection to identify moments where your strengths and abilities shone through or when you overcame adversity. But life is not always about wins, is it? You will also need to think about the challenges you faced to get to the point you are at, at present. You must think back to the times when you failed at something, or quit. Think of what you learned from those experiences. Think of what insights you gained. Think of what values you finally accumulated.

Now think of a future-oriented story that draws on all these lessons. How does, what you do, contribute to others? How does it help society, the economy, the environment? How does it enable, empower and educate those who interact with you?

This is what forms the basis of your personal brand.

Personal branding is all about how you package and communicate about your self, your values, and your career. You attempt to become deliberately known within your business and social community. Freelancers, independent consultants, and solopreneurs benefit from it as it feeds into their business development and networking exercise. But even organizations, which are increasingly moving towards flatter, more self-managed systems, appreciate employees who are self-actualized and in pursuit of their potential.

Get clear about who you really are. Build your personal experiences and biography into your brand. This is your chance to align your natural gifts and passion around your brand and business.

Personal branding is not a one-time effort where you can just build a website or start blogging and run it on auto-pilot mode. You have to keep nurturing your personal brand throughout your professional life and allow your narrative to keep evolving.

To make a ripple in your industry, you will have to be your own publicist. You will have to work on brand YOU. Followers, work and benefits will eventually find you.

12 Storytelling Mistakes Businesses Make

I love stories. Writing, reading, listening to them. And of course, sharing them. We all have our personal favourite storyteller (mine is Walt Disney), writer (Maria Popova’s name comes to mind) and marketer who knows how to get their content in front of everyone (Gary Vaynerchuk does this wonderfully). The messages given out by the best storytellers are heard, which is why it is such a powerful technique. When it comes to telling stories in a business context though, things can get tricky.

Storytelling for business is not a new concept anymore. At least not new enough in the sense that business leaders don’t need to be convinced of the impact it can create. They know it. They use it. Every single day. We all understand that technical-jargon filled product demos can be improved upon by using scenarios that a potential client is going to face and demonstrating how the product eases the client’s life in that scenario. We can ditch bullet-dominated slide presentations in favour of narrating inspiring personal anecdotes. And yet, one might slip up during a meeting or a keynote because something like storytelling, which should come to us naturally, becomes an act, and worse, it shows.

Here are 12 storytelling mistakes we tend to make in a business setting that can rob a story of its power.

Mistake #1: Announcing that you are about to tell a story

Have you ever been guilty of announcing the start of your story with, “Let me tell you a story”? What kind of reaction is it likely to elicit? “Okay, this is going to get boring now”. Or worse, “No, not another story!” Stories told in a business setting need to be more subtle than that. You need to get into the storytelling mode without attracting attention to it. The trick to starting a story is to not mention the s-word. If you want to keep your audience’s attention, don’t tell them that a story is coming up next. Even if the story is entirely true, there is something about the word that connotes ‘fiction’ or ‘made up’ or ’not really important’. Instead, dive in with, “Something happened in a client workshop the other day and it’s going to affect our business”. Now you’ve got your audience riveted and they are all ears, wondering, “what happened?”

Mistake #2: Forgetting that the hero is the customer, not you

I bet you already know that. Yet, how many stories have you heard that demonstrated how a product or a company helped a client out of a sticky situation? It inevitably ends up being about you. You talk about how you offered a comprehensive set of features, how you helped the client overcome challenges, in turn defeating your own competitors, and how you saved the day. You end up using an effective technique like storytelling to talk about the wrong things. You are not supposed to be Frodo who saves all humanity (and elves and dwarves and hobbits). You are supposed to be Gandalf, the mentor, the experienced one who guides Frodo (the hero, the customer), to his eventual goal. You are not the hero of the story. Your customer is. They are the ones with a mission that they are working very hard to accomplish. And you are there to act as their mentor.

Mistake #3: Guessing about the audience

How well do you understand your audience? And not just who they are or which firm they belong to, but their motivations, aspirations and challenges? When you tend to focus on your story, you may end up assuming things about your audience, which can be a grave mistake. Storytelling is as much about leaving a concrete message as it is about the narration technique. It is important for you to get data about your audience’s preferences and behaviour. You also need to get feedback from them. It’s the only way of articulating messages that have value to your audience and which will ultimately lend value to your stories.

Mistake #4: Not going deep enough

It’s called storytelling for a reason. Sure the plot matters but how you tell it matters so much more, which is why you need to take your time when telling it. Just rushing in and out of it is not going to help get your point across. A story needs its characters, and the characters need to grow on the audience enough for them to relate themselves. Sometimes, in a desire to interest a wider audience, we fail to go deep enough and that can rob a story of its essence.

Mistake #5: Giving out too much information

As far as a business story is concerned, there is a thing as too much information. Your story needs characters and descriptions and a dollop of suspense, but they are not meant to entertain your teammates or your potential buyers. Business stories are told to demonstrate a point and more importantly, to get the audience to act. While depth is important (as mentioned in the previous point), there has to be a proper structure that follows a ‘situation – impact – resolution – results’ route. Also, it is worth remembering that an over-reliance on data is not always a good thing as they are dry and hard to relate to on a personal level. Details are wonderful but one needs to be careful that they don’t stand out so starkly that they end up detracting the audience from the story.

Mistake #6: Not presenting a conflict in the narrative

A story doesn’t exist without conflict. There has to be a reason why everything didn’t happen perfectly in the first place. A conflict is your character’s Mount Everest, the one he has to scale, and for which he needs all the training and tools and equipment which he can get (which, as it turns out, can be provided by you). When there is a conflict in a story it keeps your audience’s attention and maintains the flow of the narrative. But more than that, it shows how change and growth happens. Which is what your audience is looking to learn after all.

Mistake #7: Hiding failures in order to appear successful

It’s easy to talk about one’s achievements. It is a lot more challenging to be open about failures though. Yet, one of the things that make stories so relatable is that the audience can hear the weaknesses and conflicts contained in a story and think, “this is exactly what happened to me!” When you tell someone of the difficult circumstances you encountered, how you failed and what you did to keep persevering, it lends greater authenticity to your speeches and presentations and builds trust with your readers or your listeners. Sharing stories that show vulnerability are not easy, but it is exactly this vulnerability that generates empathy in the audience and connects them to you.

Mistake #8: Blatantly promoting the company or its products

This is an extension to the point about you not being the hero of your own story. Since stories are meant to appeal to your audience, you must be subtle about commercial messages. Your focus in employing the storytelling technique must be to get an emotional response which results in action and ultimately translates into sales. In other words, show, don’t tell and definitely don’t sell!

Mistake #9: Not differentiating between a written story and a story told live from a stage

We don’t talk the way we write, do we? We fumble, stutter and use fillers. We don’t even use complete sentences when we talk sometimes. But a written script is polished, refined by repeated editing. Which is why if you learn a script by heart and narrate it that way on stage when your audience is seated right in front of you, it will feel artificial. A stage has an advantage over a screen – when you are on a stage you can engage with your audience in real-time. This is why stories told during a presentation or a workshop need to be conversational. While having a script beforehand is useful in deciding which points to cover, what questions to ask and what messages to leave the audience with, once you get into a live storytelling mode, be natural. Don’t talk the way you write.

Mistake #10: Forgetting to focus on why the story is worth recounting

Why are you telling a story? There has to be a “moral of the story is…”. Stories are there to challenge us. They are there to show us how heroes overcome obstacles, fight villains and undergo a transformation themselves. Open-ended stories can be entertaining for sure, but not when you are telling them in a business context. So don’t forget to close the story’s arc. More importantly, ask yourself, does your story have a recall value? Will it be remembered by your audience three months down the line? Will they still be telling it to their friends six months from now?

Mistake #11: Siloing the storytellers

Storytelling is being used by business leaders increasingly. But what about other people in an organisation or the different stakeholders of your company? Are your managers or your on-field sales representatives perpetuating the right stories? Are your business leaders telling stories only to have them trickle down into dry snippets by the time it gets in front of a prospective customer? It is important to remember that employees are storytellers too and by siloing them you may be missing out on a huge opportunity. Instead, if you educate and train your employees to become better and more confident in using storytelling as a technique, you will empower them too to engage with their audience better and focus on forging meaningful relationships instead of merely focusing on a transactional activity like selling.

Mistake #12: Believing it’s a one-time effort

This is an easy mistake to make, thinking that storytelling is just a one-time thing to be used when someone goes on stage to deliver a TED Talk. In fact, storytelling works better when it is infused into an organisation’s culture and is an ongoing process. It has to be a way of life, whether you are communicating externally with your prospects or the press, or internally with your own managers.

What other mistakes in business storytelling have you encountered? How can one avoid them? Tell me in the comments section below, I’m curious to know!