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CEOs need to be (at a minimum) competent storytellers. Great oratory is a plus but not a requirement. The CEO is the ultimate salesperson whether addressing customers, investors, partners or new recruits.
From a cocktail party to a board room, she/he must be able to tell a simple, clear story about why the business exists and the impact it has on its customers. Practiced storytellers have an advantage. Humans are drawn to stories. It’s the way we recorded history for much of our early evolution. We love songs, poems, and books for the images conjured in our minds
But storytelling, especially in business, has a dark side too. Stories are not facts.
Ever been in a meeting where everything is an anecdote? The sales leader spends more time talking about specific deal drama versus closing rates or ACV. The marketer incessantly discusses branding but not NPS, market share, or pipeline growth. The customer success teams brag about a happy user, but capacity planning, up-sell performance, or customer engagement metrics are barely referenced. And the one that personally drives me crazy… the CEO brags about the great organizational culture but is ignorant to turnover, glassdoor reviews, or a glaring lack of employee referrals.
So what to do? Here is a short checklist to bring some balance back to your meetings and to ensure decisions are derived from a healthy mix of vision and fact.
Get a dashboard going! Don’t use an excuse that your startup is too early. Start the discipline now. Here is a great Dashboard blog from Christoph Janz at Point Nine Capital.
Institute OKRs or another goal-setting methodology. I find a strong inverse correlation between storytelling cultures and target achievement.
Start your regular leadership meeting with a review of key metrics. It can be as simple as green, yellow and red to quickly asses where a gap exists between targets and reality.
So do stories have any role in managing a company? Definitely, but recognize when stories are helpful versus distracting. Perhaps ask yourself some questions. Is the topic facing your team a creative one? Is there a lack of quantifiable data? Is inspiration or alignment the goal? In all cases, anecdotal evidence can be useful.
Stories are powerful tools to clarify, inspire and persuade, but a healthy business knows when to separate story from fact. It’s the difference between a campfire and a board room.