Think about the last time you met a new person.
What did you talk about, after you got past the introductions?
Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I’m always interested to hear their story – who they are, where they’re from, how they got there, and where they’re headed next.
A person’s story, after all, is what makes their work meaningful. It tells me WHY they believe their work matters.
And the more I understand the story behind the person’s decisions, the better I can create a personal connection with them. Sometimes, if the person’s story resonates with me on a deep level, that connection can even lead to a life-long friendship.
We’re all looking for new stories every day – whether we’re aware of it or not. We, humans, are story-sharing creatures. We want to be inspired. To hear things that’ll make us laugh (or cry). To learn lessons from others’ mistakes, and understand the reasons behind their successes. To connect with the people we love, and with strangers, we’ve never met before.
More than the facts of a story, people care about the way it makes them feel.
That’s the kind of story your business needs to tell. When you’re driven by a mission that connects with people on a deep emotional level, that mission will inspire your employees, your customers, and even your leaders. It’ll remind them where your business came from, what’s important to you, and why they should care.
Here are the top five things that need to come across clearly in your business’s story.
Every great initiative is inspired by a lack of something else. Your business saw that something was missing in the world – and saw an opportunity to fix it.
Share how you felt when you first realized this problem existed. How did it make you feel? Where were you when it happened? What was going through your head?
The more clearly you can describe and communicate your pain, the better you’ll connect with people who are experiencing the same thing. Set the scene in a way that connects with your listeners, and you’ll create an instant emotional connection that they’ll remember for a long time to come.
Everyone experiences pain, but comparatively few people turn that pain into positive action. How did you develop your vision for a better tomorrow? When did you realize you HAD to bring that vision to life? What challenges did you face along the way?
Describe your thought process, and the steps you took to get started. Explain the challenges you faced, the uncertainty you felt, and how you overcame those obstacles. In short – how did you become the person you are today?
The more vividly you can describe how you put your vision into action, the more effectively you’ll connect with people, by showing them you’ve been through the same kinds of difficulties they face. You are human. You’ve struggled and failed just like everyone else. Sharing your stories will demonstrate that.
Some businesses are just “companies,” while others are known as communities or even tribes. What makes the difference? A common cause.
That cause is what gives people a reason to support you, work for you, buy from you, and care about your company as more than just a provider of a commodity. It’s a statement of what you stand for. A broadcast of what you believe in. It tells people that you care about something beyond what you sell, and rallies their ongoing support for your vision.
This is why the mission of Honest Empires – to help for-profit companies create and communicate their greater contribution to the world – is so crucial. Businesses with a cause have the power to make the world a better place. And if they can communicate what that cause is, and why it’s important, then they will start creating communities instead of commodities.
Today is already old news. Tell me what tomorrow brings. Your social cause is headed somewhere – toward a future, you can see clearly, no matter how far-off it might seem. Share that vision. Paint a picture of what the future will look like if people continue to support your organization. Make people feel how important their support is in bringing that future to life.
Instead of looking at the future in terms of growth in numbers, spreadsheets, and sales, you need to be focused on the impact your business is making in the world. That impact is the only thing people actually care about – especially if it evokes emotion, builds a connection, and establishes a sense of community.
It doesn’t matter if your industry is space exploration or accounting, your vision for the future needs to inspire the people around you. That vision is the central reason they’ll continue to support you, do business with you, and recommend your products and services to their friends.
As important as inspiring visions of the future are, they’re only believable if they include reasonable plans for getting there. Most people aren’t interested in the fine-print details – but they need to know enough about your milestones to get a sense of a clear plan.
The exact steps for getting achieving your vision for future may not always be clear – and that’s OK. The only things you need to communicate are:
a) The major milestones you plan on hitting
b) The immediate steps you’re taking to reach the next milestone
As long as you communicate the results of your efforts on a regular basis, people will see that their support is moving the needle. They’ll trust you more. And they’ll remember why they believe in your mission. Along the way, you may even inspire them to take steps on their own road to personal growth.
Remember, every business has a “character arc,” just as people in stories do. Your job as a leader is to identify the cause your business fights for and your vision for a better tomorrow – and communicate that cause and vision to the people in around you, in ways that connect with them on a deep level. Do that, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a community.