1: “It was just the worst meeting you ever went to,” Craig Dunn recalls in Stephen Denning‘s book The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative. 

“We had insults thrown at us. There was a lot of anger and disappointment. People had lost faith in the firm,” he remembers. “And they had good reasons for feeling the way they did. We all had to face the fact that there had been a lot of poor management decisions in the recent past.”

Craig had just been named managing director of AMP’s financial services business unit. He faced a “perfect storm of bad news.”

“AMP was famous in Australia as an icon of financial security, but the last few years had been a disaster for the company,” Stephen writes. “Some major acquisitions in the U.K. had bombed and were now being undone. A major downsizing was under way. The stock price was plummeting. Rumors of an imminent hostile takeover were rampant. Many thought that AMP wouldn’t survive.” 

2: So what did Craig do?

He began by acknowledging the problems AMP was facing. “This is hard, this is difficult, but this is what the organization means to me.” 

He then told a story about a family in the Australian city of Adelaide who had bought one of AMP’s insurance policies.

“The guy was still quite young, still in his early thirties, and he had a couple of kids. But he had contracted multiple sclerosis. He was just moving to the stage where he would be in a wheelchair.” 

“He had an income protection policy with us, and in that instance, we went beyond what we were required to do legally.”  

“One of our claim managers had traveled over to Adelaide. He went through the house that we had just renovated for the family, and agreed to put in a new bathroom so that they could access it in a wheelchair, and to lower the kitchen benches.”

Then, Craig shared the kind words of appreciation the family had said to the AMP claim manager.  

“I was reminding people of what our firm was all about. And the value that we added to people’s lives. It was true that the firm had lost its way in the past few years, but the sorts of things that we’d done for that guy and his family in Adelaide were still happening. They were happening every day.”  

“I showed them that this was an organization worth fighting for,” he recalls. 

3: Only then did Craig explain the actions he planned to take to enable AMP to survive.  

“Three years later, when AMP had not only survived the crisis but was back on the road to profitability, he recalls: “What I came to see was that the communication is more emotional than logical: we had to draw upon people’s emotional connection to the organization, to draw on that piggy bank of good will to the firm and use that as the way forward.”

By sharing a story about the role the firm had played in the lives of real Australians, he sparked a new story in the minds of his listeners: This firm is worth preserving!

More tomorrow when we will break down the elements of a successful persuasive story.


Reflection: How often do I tell stories vs. share analysis and facts?

Action: Experiment with telling a story today to a colleague or my team.

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