Stories allow the human race to fold inward. We find a sanctuary, a common ground to care and give and love. Someone on the other side of the world — a person you may never meet or ever know — hears your story, suddenly understanding exactly where you stand and what you stand for. Hope for all. Work is a happier place when people share stories. Sometimes we see a story in the way a person sighs or the tightness of their eyes. What does it take to reassure someone their story will have a happy ending? Our hearts and intellect are entwined. We learn from each other’s stories. Culture thrives in story-driven organizations and reminds people of their important contributions to a greater good. Story builds relationships and relationships are the basis for everything. Together, things get done. Good ideas get launched. Great companies are built. Problems get solved. Customers, investors, donors, colleagues, referral drivers, your own teammates all hope their story is heard. Voices in the dark help no one. When we share stories, the possibilities for creating new ideas rush forth like a sea of blue — endless and fervent and delightfully imperfect. We become believers in other people when we understand the story of a tiny start-up or a great big global enterprise or the old man up the street. Our story makes us us. What does story mean to you?
A story without beats is the fastest way to make people fall asleep. (That was not meant to rhyme. Just putting it out there.) In fiction books or movie scripts, writers define a beat as the smallest unit of a story — something that happens that causes a reaction.
If the Titanic had been merely a fabulous ship reaching port in one piece, there would have been no story.
As corporate storytellers, we look at marketing as having beats too. A beat is an interaction — something that happens that causes a reaction. Your hero headline on the homepage creates desire. The visitor clicks on the call-to-action to learn more. There’s a beat. The average movie has about 40 beats. The average homepage? Anybody’s guess. BUT, strive to have beats throughout.
Here’s the big WOW: a great brand story is one long string of beats — one interaction that leads to the next one.
Less beats slows the action. More beats can keep you on the edge of your seat. Now switch the perspective to your story. Thinking in terms of beats, instead of mere content, changes everything. Website content becomes a path of engagement, sales decks become dialogue, and videos inspire action.
Our own lives have beats. Our own lives are one long scene built upon another, conversation that evokes action, surprises that lead to unexpected roads. Our own story does not magically appear. You went from point A to point B, maybe even to point Z (thank you, alphabet, for having 26 of you). It’s never easy. The path was littered with fear and angst. But it was worth it because it landed you here, wherever here is — from one interaction after another.
There are many stories behind a company. How you saved the day for a customer. Why your company does what it does. Your vision for an amazing world. Your founder story.
Showing your stories to the outside world should captivate people in the same way you feel entranced watching a great movie. Stories are one-part emotion and one-part authoritative. People buy on emotion and justify the purchase with underlying authority or facts. The beats in the story keep the emotion and the relationship moving forward.
Consider your story one of your biggest unfair advantages — one thing that others don’t have and cannot copy.
Let’s end with the words from one of the most famous film directors of all time: Frank Capra: “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”
Now, take your brand story to breathtaking heights.
How do you get people to tell their stories? That was the first question a student asked as I showed the importance of #storytelling to two communications classes at Aurora University.
I pulled out our K+L Storytellers signature multi-colored beach ball, had the students stand up and I asked a single question. What is something about you that nobody here knows? I tossed the beach ball to the first student, who ducked allowing the ball to bounce off the unprepared student behind him. (That’s why we use a beach ball instead of a baseball.)
Around the room the beach ball flew to the next storyteller. One young student has lived on her own since she was 17. Another collected exotic animals, including an alligator. A third has traveled to more than 20 countries.
In the second class, students were asked about their No. 1 obsession. The responses ranged from music to cars to sports to fluffy cats.
The exercise was fun, and it especially kept the 8 a.m. class awake. Asking questions leads to storytelling. And by continuing the line of questioning, we began to understand each person’s unique story.
K+L Storytellers takes a similar approach with middle market, culture-driven companies that want to better understand and project their stories, both internally to improve culture, and externally to increase brand awareness.
Like many college students, companies have short-term goals and long-term vision. Sharing stories with emotion and authority provides a trust with the audience, which is a foundation for increasing sales.
Spinning a few Dad jokes aside, what was some of the feedback of our classroom experience?
· Ebony Scott, a junior marketing major, said marketing professionals “have a responsibility to depict clients in the way they want to be represented and how they would want their stories to be told.”
· Senior Dirk Schoger.said, “Your lecture on storytelling was interesting and informative. The material and the stories you had to share with the class were very engaging, which is proof of the effectiveness of a good story.”
Nice to know our future storytellers are poised and ready to bring their stories to the world.
Middle market companies have great stories to tell. Those stories can help promote their brand, recruit top talent and build a return with purpose in their communities.Read More
I love to run, but I detest feeling cold. So last Saturday, I went to our local Vaughn Center, plunked down two dollars in quarters pilfered from our family coin jar and exchanged them for the privilege of running the track.
Six times around makes a mile. It's really not hard at all. Unless you are Marvin.
I don't know if that is his name, but that's what I'm going with. He looked like a Marvin, a rather nostalgic name befitting a man who is most probably in his seventies, wrinkly skin on his dark-skinned face, still broad-shouldered, still built like the athlete I suspect he once was. He wore chinos and a black polo top.
When I spoke with him, I didn't ask him his name. It was enough for me just to approach a stranger. Many people don't know this about me, but I'm a real introvert. Big groups terrify me and meeting strangers . . . don't even get me started. But this man did something that was so massively impressive, I had to work up the nerve to tell him the truth. And I did. I thanked him, straight out, for inspiring all of us that day.
Marvin walked at a complete 90 degree angle. He used the rail around the second floor track as a guide because, obviously, he really didn't have a lot of clearance to see far ahead. He would stop a lot. He would stand at the rail and watch the basketball and volleyball players below make three-pointers or spike the ball over the net.
I imagined him fifty years before. A great player, someone with promise, maybe a scholarship to college or the captain of his high school team.
Then something happened along the way. Was it a car accident? Years of hard work stacked on top of each other? An illness winning the war on his body?
So I asked him, after thanking him, if it was painful to walk. Because it looked like it was, and he shook his head and said, "Oh yeah. My back, my lower back." He was sitting on the bench alongside the track when I talked with him. I figured I had one more question before he thought I was a nut, so I asked him what I really wanted to know: What motivated him to come out here and go through all this pain?
His eyes had a fierce light of goodness. He stared right at me and said, "I've got to try. I've just got to keep on tryin'."
I thanked him again. It was one of those moments where I felt like I'd been touched by an angel. One human being sharing with another about courage, life, determination.
Michele Kelly is CEO and Co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and content company passionate about helping middle market companies scale through story.
“It’s been a long journey since the recent depression, but if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind,” said Donald Dardis, president of Dukane Precast.
That was the most poignant line I heard at the recent Valley Industrial Association’s Spark Awards, which honored Fox Valley area manufacturers. It was poignant because Mr. Dardis spoke from the heart. He spoke about the pain Dukane Precast faced during the challenging years 2008-2010. He spoke about the vulnerability that every business experienced – doing everything to keep the doors open and the lights on.
Manufacturers, like Dukane, have clawed their way through challenging times, and today experience record production.
If manufacturing were a brand, it would bear scars. In a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, eight in 10 Americans believe that manufacturing is important to maintain America’s standard of living. However, one-third would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.
The good news (finally): The gap appears to be lessening. Misperception is changing. A growing number of people are understanding that the makers of our day are high tech global competitors. Educative, informative content gives manufacturers an open opportunity to rebuild industry integrity and set the record straight that making products is really cool.
When manufacturing companies share vibrant content, they too have an opportunity to change the tenor of industry perception. For people to understand something, they must see it.
Here are a few examples of vibrant content manufacturers can create:
• Blogs about products solving critical problems from a human perspective
• Best practices guides
• Q&A with high school and college students attending plant tours
• Articles and blogs authored by a diverse cross-section of a company
• Inclusive job descriptions
• Stories about living company values, social responsibility, community involvement, philanthropy and environmental impact
• Podcasts around industry growth and the role of manufacturing
• Books talking about manufacturing careers and education
• Online journal (yes, actually on your website) detailing collaboration with community leaders and other manufacturers in your industry
• Supply chain video series to educate youth about the big picture behind manufacturing
Manufacturing by the Numbers
From the National Association of Manufacturer’s Q1 2019 Outlook Survey, respondents remain optimistic about manufacturing in 2019. Here are some of the results from 466 manufacturers around the country:
· 89.5 percent feel either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook (up from 88.7 percent in Q4 2018)
· 4.4 percent expected growth rate for sales for the next 12 months
· 2.1 percent expected growth rate in full-time employment for the next 12 months
· 2.8 percent expected growth rate in capital investments
· 2.4 percent expected growth rate in product prices
How Are Your Stories Being Told?
In a fun, light-hearted way, @Jim Carr and @Jason Zenger founded the Making Chips podcast where they tell stories of success, talk about challenges. Associations, like the VIA, Technology & Manufacturing Association and Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center are sharing member stories through award ceremonies, workshops, seminars, email campaigns, member spotlights and more.
The bottom line: the content that manufacturers distribute is extremely important because it elevates the perception of manufacturing.
So how are you telling your stories? Don’t forget – it’s OK to be like Mr. Dardis and reveal your vulnerability and how you overcame it.
Oftentimes, those are the most vibrant stories of all.
Roderick Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and vibrant content writing company that works with middle market and funded start-up companies that are hungry to scale.
There’s a reason why two-thirds of everyday conversations consist of stories. More than statistics or an exhausting list of details, stories inform with “gusto,” as my Italian grandmother would say.
Companies hungry for growth often ask us: Where do we find stories? Our answer: They are all around you.
Your backstory: The early days when you collected pennies to make payroll, but had the grit to believe in your business idea.
Your people: The many ways your team solves problems for customers and gets it done!
Your philanthropy: The lives you change through the causes you believe in.
Your customers: The human experiences you create and problems you solve.
Your vision: The world you dream about. The world you hope to create.
Your humanity: The times you struggle, the things you care about, the moments you wanted to give up, the little wins that led to new ideas.
These are not just anybody’s stories; they are your stories. We see ourselves in them — in your blogs, case studies, on your about page, in your emails and podcasts, your newsletters and videos. Stories make your brand unforgettable (hello, short list).
At K+L Storytellers, we have a quote jar. In the jar are little slips of paper with our favorite quotes on them. Here are a few to inspire the storyteller in you.
“The best brands are built on great stories.” - Ian Rowden, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Group
“If a million people see my movie, I hope they see a million different movies.” - Quentin Tarantino, Director
“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” - Dr. Brene Brown, author, researcher and storyteller
“I have a story — but I’m saving it for dinner.” - Peter Kelly, our son
“We are no longer selling products, we are selling stories.” - Seth Godin
“And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from and what might be possible.” - Alan Rickman, British actor best known for playing Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter movies
“We tell stories in order to feel at home in the universe.” - Roger Bingham, co-founder and director, Science Network
“We are our stories. We compress years of experience, though and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. That has always been true. But personal narrative has become more prevalent, and perhaps more urgent, in a time of abundance, when many of us are freer to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.” - Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind
“If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.” Michael Margolis, CEO of Get Storied
“Stories are fundamental to how we think about the world. Nelson Mandela told a story about what post-apartheid Africa could look like. That story was persuasive enough to promote change, and it became reality. JFK told a story about putting man on the moon, and it inspired people and came to pass. These types of huge events were built on stories.” - Mohsin Hamid, novelist and Chief Storytelling Officer for Wolff Olins, a London-based brand consultancy
“I think marketing’s futures are bigger than we give them credit for because we’re still stuck looking at what marketing was rather than what it could be. The reason storytelling in marketing matters is because it starts to force us to move beyond that.” - Brian Solis, author
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Joan Didion, writer and journalist
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in this world.” - Phillip Pullman
“No, no. The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” - Lewis Caroll
“In every line of copy we write, we’re either serving the customer’s story or descending into confusion; we’re either making music or making noise.” - Donald Miller, author of Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
“Stories are the only enchantment possible, for when we begin to see our suffering as a story, we are saved.” - Anaïs Nin
“Every entrepreneur, business leader and company faces the challenge of telling the right story— one that deepens engagement with our customers and within our teams.” - Bernadette Jiwa, awesome storyteller and founder of The Story of Telling
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” - Albert Einstein
“Every great design begins with an even better story.” - Lorinda Mamo
“I’ve covered thousands of stories as a reporter and as a corporate storyteller. My favorite one, hands down, is the story in front of me — the messy, unorganized, almost-there story I’m in the middle of right this minute.” - Roderick Kelly, co-founder of K+L Storytellers
Some of our greatest business stories read like real cinematic feasts. And they come from manufacturers.Read More
As a corporate storyteller and copywriter, words are my playground. I would flip through our 30,000-pound, hard-covered dictionary as a child, my finger landing on random words. This is how I learned the word "philoprogenitiveness" (it means a love for one's offspring) at age seven. (My offspring, by the way, cringe when I share this quirky childhood indulgence😂.)Read More
Animals have a way of being memorable, from our first pet to our school moniker. It’s one reason companies like to use animals in their brand story because stories are memorable.Read More
Values fuel our lives. They are our uniques — for us as individuals and as companies. Our flags, planted firmly in the ground, show red with vibrant love for others, pure white for honesty in all matters, green for our respect of the earth, and rough hewn browns for the value of being approachable and down-to-earth.
What are your colors and how are you changing the world of your customers and work-mates with them? Let’s explore together.Read More
What if we had only three ways to communicate with each other?
· Writing a letter and sending it via the United States Postal Service to a business or residence
· In-person visit at home or at work
· Calling a business or residence on a land line telephone
In the first three decades of my life, these were the only methods of “getting a hold” of someone. And they were effective because each method nearly always elicited a response.
Today, we can reach someone instantly. Multiple applications provide a direct pipeline to your mobile device, tablet or personal computer. Besides email and texting, we’ve got Uber Conferencing (they have a great hold song if you haven't heard it), Facetime, Skype, Slack, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and LinkedIn. Leaving a voicemail is almost shocking to the system (it requires a lot of energy and time to hit “play”). An article in Psychology Today cites that inboxes are one of the most common triggers to social anxiety and productivity-related anxiety.
It’s easy to see why we all want to run from the mayhem.
Hiding in Plain Sight
There’s no place to hide, so we’ve become creative to avoid being reached. We hide in plain sight.
Phone numbers and physical addresses of business are disappearing from websites and business cards. Instead, we leave a note and send it off into the web abyss and cross our fingers that it will reach the right person AND they will be kind enough to respond.
When a phone number we don't recognize pops up, we watch our phones do the dance. We need “approval” from someone to connect on LinkedIn and other social platforms and, oftentimes, contact information is buried or nonexistent on profiles.
But the No. 1 way we hide is by ignoring the call, text, letter, email, IM, social request, etc. altogether. We simply do not respond. That fact has nothing to do with technology. That fact has to do with people making a choice.
While we haven't done a formal survey on this, we sure have heard people talk about this phenomenon that, with all the ways in which we can communicate, it is getting harder and harder to elicit a response. Is that the story a company wants to convey? How is responsiveness a reflection of a company’s brand?
What are some of your experiences with unresponsive responses?
His life story was big because he made his story about everybody else. They were the hero of his life story. Because of this, he became so unforgettable, the pharmacist at the local Jewel-Osco came to his wake.
Three days before Christmas.
My father, Frank Anthony LoDestro, taught me about the powerful storyline of life. Same goes for start-up founders. When you’re pitching an investor, your goal is to create believers, not just buyers of your idea. Our brains are hardwired for story.
Story is how we make pitches unforgettable — the golden ticket when it comes to asking for money.
I recently spoke about story at Investing in Women sponsored by Women Tech Founders — boss ladies of the tech world. Woot! Woot! A parade of start-up CEOs pitched to a panel of 10 investors.
The event was fab, of course, because it was chaired by Chicago’s InspiHER Tech Founder and career strategist rock star Laurie Swanson. (So great to have Katherine Kelly, my daughter, by my side, too!!!!)
What do I remember from the founder pitches? Their stories.
Charu Swaminathan, co-founder and CEO of Mishkalo, talked about how her company gives newlyweds an art alternative to traditional gift registry.
Shirley Yang of Muses shared her vision for the gig economy and her company is going to spur economic growth.
Deepa Kartha of Zinda told the story we are all familiar with — a man named “Ken” whose positivity was etched away by workplace disengagement and dismissiveness. Zinda increases employee engagement, a direct parallel to profit and, well, happiness.
And never, EVER will I forget founder Dana Todd of Balodana. Her company is bringing the dressmaker back through technology. She shared how menopause had created her squishy hamster-like shape (menopause is our greatest villain, gals!). Her imagery, her metaphors, her STORY was unforgettable.
There were more stories. I could go on. And, yes, as two investors pointed out at the end, numbers are key. They are in it, after all, to make a pile of money.
But if it was just the numbers, why pitch investors at all? Why not just submit the prospectus and be done with it?
Because people still do business with people. Whether you’re a VC, angel investor or institutional investor, human beings still make the decisions. Fact: The founder story is not the only reason investors say “yes,” but it does give the “why” behind the facts and data.
1. Believe in Your Story
You have to be all-in when it comes to your pitch. No self-limiting talk (like “I just wanted to run an idea by you” or “I know you may not be interested in this, but . . .”) or hesitation (you can’t sink the ball if you don’t take the shot). There’s a confidence gap between men and women. According to a Hewlett Packard internal report, men will happily apply for a promotion if they meet 60 percent of the criteria. Women feel they need to meet 100 percent of the criteria. Believe in your story — this is your “unique.” Nobody else has your narrative.
2. Keep Your Story in Your Back Pocket
You’ve got your investor deck and you think you’re all set? Fair enough. But this wouldn’t have helped Scott Ferreira and his sister Stacey who were at a party hosted by Sir Richard Branson. Scott says the “laid back and casual style” made it a lot easier to “talk openly” about his company. Less than a month later, Sir Branson and his partner Jerry Murdock invested in MySocialCloud. Be prepared to meet an investor anywhere — at the salon, in an elevator, at your child’s band concert.
3. Your Story Has a Hero
In your investor pitch, the hero of your story is your current/future customer. As human beings, the world revolves around us. When investors see that the market — customers you know inside and out — are the center of your story, you will gain attention posthaste. You are the GUIDE in your story. Ask: What superpower does your company give the hero to succeed?
4. Find the Conflict
If Rose Dawson from the movie The Titanic had boarded the big, fancy boat, enjoyed the shrimp cocktail and reached her destination, dripping with sparkling sapphires from her long, beautiful fingers, there would have been no story. Every great story has conflict. The antagonist of your story could be a situation, the plight of your customers if they don’t have your product/service, stunted growth for your growth-hungry company, less agility for your market, time suck for an entire legion of people, less options for the masses — whatever villain causes angst for your hero.
5. Pick Your Theme: Origin, Vision, Cause, Triumph, Innovation
Among corporate storytellers, controversy abounds around theme. In the latest edition of The Sophisticated Marketer, it cites seven main ones. A regular go-to article I love is by English author Grace Jolliffe who writes “A story without a theme is little more than a list of events.” She sites more than 20.
Story is so visceral and self-interpretive that I believe it’s up to the individual storyteller to decide. However, five powerful themes race to the top when it comes to pitching your investor story:
• Origin: There is a problem and the founders, who are the best equipped to solve it, know the path.
• Vision: I love this story theme and used it successfully for a client pitching an existing investor they wanted to tap for more. Start with the vision of your amazing new world made possible with the funding. Then fast forward to the present and the remarkable journey to making the vision real.
• Cause: There’s a problem that impacts people’s lives, triggered by an antagonist that isn’t going away (and is probably going to get worse), that leads to a face-off between your customers and the big, bad villain and BOOM! Your company can help the customer survive/leap/escape/grow/heal/love life/innovate better/be more productive/etc.
• Triumph: The triple crown. You are solving the customer’s external (the obvious one), internal (what keeps them up at night) and philosophical problems (making the larger world a better place).
• Innovation: There’s nothing out there like it. Time to turn the market upside down.
6. When Culture and Brand Tango
Include a line or two showing an investor two worlds: culture (how people inside your organization will/are talking and thinking about your company) and brand (how people outside your organization will/are talking and thinking about your company).
7. Know Your “Why”
The “why” god Simon Sinek has this point covered. Pay him homage. He says: “Always build your story from the inside out, starting with the WHY.” Here are the hurdles: leap beyond WHAT you do, put HOW you do it on hold, and get to the meat with an investor: WHY your business idea is so fantastically important for your customers, the financiers and the world at large.
8. CAR: Context, Action, Result
A great book on business storytelling comes from Lead With A Story by former Proctor and Gamble exec Paul Smith. He has this formula called CAR: context, action, results. It’s an easy way to assemble your story (I learned this concept from Orbit Media co-founder/CMO and Chicago content rock star Andy Crestodina who writes killer blogposts. He wrote something along the lines that great stories aren’t written, they are assembled. I’ve never forgotten this).
Context is your business backstory. Action is the conflict — the highest point of tension where you customers are battling their nemesis. The results come by way of the amazing new world you create with your business idea and how you’ve resolved your customer’s angst.
9. Last Words About Your Logline (Your 10-Second Pitch)
Every movie has a logline, it’s one sentence that sums up the screenplay. Movies have been bought and sold on these one-liners. They are short, clear and — have a shade of emotion.
Your investor story has a logline too.
Your homework: Pretend you are attending a favorite event (for me, this might be La Traviata at the Lyric Opera or a front row seat at a Lana Del Rey concert), and your seat happens to be right next to a potential investor.
Idle chit chat ensues. Your heart has more reverb than the music. This is your BIG chance. Afterward, you are eye-to-eye with the investor. You say: “There’s a reason we met tonight. When you hear the story behind my company, you will be absolutely amazed what a great fit we can be. I give (your hero) the (superpower) to rise above (conflict). We’re changing the world here for (your hero) and it’s important because (your why). When can we talk?”
Then schedule that call/meeting and choose a theme to pitch your longer narrative.
Your investor pitch will be epic. Just like the many stories you’ve heard in your life — and never forgotten.
As your company’s sales projections for 2019 are being finalized and the marketing team prepares its strategy for going live with your messaging, it’s time to evaluate the WHY behind your company.
An analogy can be made from Halloween. Trick-or-treaters dress up in costume and go door-to-door with one goal in mind: to bring home the bounty. That’s their prize. There’s an unwritten contract that if the receiver dresses up in costume, the giver will hand over the goods. Companies also have a trust contract with prospects and customers. Content nurtures those relationships so when it’s time for the big “ask,” you are on the short list.
So what’s the WHY behind your mask? What’s your company’s heart and soul? Those are the stories that you should be planning for next year. You, and only you, own those stories. Your closest competitor won’t have the same stories you have.
Dozens of princesses, superheroes and witches trick-or-treat, but there is usually one that stands out with her/his creativity, originality or design (we had a giant hot dog stop at our house this year -- there aren’t many of those around). Believe it or not, you want to be that hot dog.
● On Nov. 8, Michele will present “PItch Your Investor Story” to the Women Tech Founders at Galleria Marchetti in Chicago. The real-time investor pitch (think Shark Tank) will be followed by the WTF Awards. (This may be the best title for an award yet. Who wouldn’t want to have a WTF Award on their desk?)
● On Nov. 9, a one-hour interactive presentation “The Power of Storytelling” will be held at STEAMfest, 2018 an event hosted by Steam Ahead at Hub 88’s headquarters along the I-88 suburban high- tech corridor.
We want to hear your story. What’s your differentiating WHY? Why are you a stand-out, can’t miss hot dog (OK, pick your favorite costume this year) among a sea of expected masks?
“A requirement is an opportunity for improvement.”
Quality Engineer for Aurora Specialty Textiles Group
The scene: white cinderblock walls, speckled linoleum floor, a couple refrigerators, circular tables scattered like coins. Aurora Specialty Textiles Group’s lunchroom was standard fare — until you looked through a large picture window along the south-facing wall.
There, you saw the inner workings of an earnest manufacturing company, the kind striving to show up as a leader, the one hosting this second in a series of meetings by Valley Industrial Association’s Sustainability Committee headed up by Tim Tremain, president of MTH Pumps.
Beyond the single pane was an amalgam of clean silver metal, a patterned ceiling of conduit pipes crisscrossing like a maze, and massive industrial pendants showering brilliant light among people moving, walking, working with large rolls of multi-colored cloth and swaths of tape for industrial applications. In the distance, steam hissed and machines hummed.
ASTG President Dan LaTurno pointed to the window and said, “Out there, we have the best group of people.” Referencing ISO 14001, he added, “We’re a 100-plus-year-old company (that) needed more conformity.” For most manufacturers, conformity means ISO certification. ASTG’s Quality Engineer Paula Kirby (a Six Sigma Black Belt herself) talked about how the organization, a wide width coating and finishing company, approached ISO 14001.
To the more than 20 members and guests of the VIA, Paula shared: “ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 are about continuous improvement. It’s a journey. It’s an evolving management system.”
ISO 14001: Start Here
According to Paula, the first step is grabbing a copy of the “ISO 14001 Overview.” It outlines: benefits, challenges and key factors for successful implementation. Then, encourage everyone across the company to take a balanced approach to quality and environmental management systems (EMS).
• Look at the environmental needs and goals within the context of your organization
• Identify key stakeholders and their expectations
• Assign key roles and responsibilities
• Review requirements — the bulk of ISO 14001 is planning
• Get the leadership team on board
• Draft procedures and policies
The Plan-Do-Check-Act Approach
Getting ISO 14001-certified provides third-party feedback, which inspires confidence from others outside your company. Objectivity gives you critical improvement advice and may even exempt your company from some customer audits. Paula recommends putting a system in place and then getting certified. ISO experts will come in and do a gap assessment first.
Paula adds that ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 are 75 percent the same, but also cautions that ISO certifications do not remove legal requirements or even translate into 100 percent success. Instead, EMS is about continuous improvement.
• Find a registrar for certification
• Use a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach (see below)
• Implement and audit internally before bringing in the registrar
• Understand the relative severity of compliance points — know the difference between nice-to-haves and must-haves
Here’s a quick summary of a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach:
PLAN: Start here. A continuous improvement approach means you may be circling back to planning if you want greater improvement.
DO: Implement specific goals, requirements and steps to follow for line operators.
CHECK: Monitor key data points like electric use and paper recycling.
ACT: If you’re not performing up to par according to the data, take corrective action. Ask: can you do better?
Timeline to Certification and Critical Factors For Success
Aurora Specialty Textiles Group began allocating resources to ISO 14001 in 2009. The next year, they conducted internal of audits with an expert outside the organization. It takes about a year of preparation before a registrar comes in. In 2011, the company earned the initial certification. ASTG had five minor non-conformances. It responded with an implementation plan.
“In 2015, we started over because we moved (to Yorkville),” says Paula, “and we got certified that same year. They don’t have to fill in all the lines anymore. We have a mature system now with less than two minor non-conforms. We want to be sure we’re doing the right thing and controlling our impact. (ISO 14001 is) everything that impacts the environment, determining what is a risk, and the planning to minimize those impacts.”
Critical factors for success include:
• Invite top level managers to drive the program
• Inspire commitment and engagement from all levels of your organization
• Fully integrate ISO 14001 with your existing management system (the two are not separate)
• Embrace transparency — this may seem hard, but it’s necessary in order to improve
• Organize your information so it is easily accessible for auditors
• Provide resource allocation and training — get your workforce engaged
The biggest challenge with ISO 14001, oftentimes, is not knowing what may arise. An example: An auditor finds an aerosol can left by the cleaning staff. He or she asks: What’s your plan for aerosol? Having a cross-functional team to brainstorm possible scenarios is key.
“Buy-in was never a problem. They care about the environment. They don’t want to have an adverse impact,” says Paula. “You just have to make sure everyone understands the environmental policy — even temps or an electrician working for the day.”
• Don’t get hung up on your score
• Do a sanity check to ensure scores match the reality of where you should be expending effort
• Document requirements concisely, clear and focused
• Identify all requirements — but don’t get mired down in reference material. It’s good to have these on hand, but not necessary to memorize manuals from places like the Illinois EPA, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, OSHA, Department of Transportation, California Prop 65, and European Reach.
ASTG’s Environmental Projects Beyond ISO 14001
“We’ve worked on some sustainability projects on our own. We found where we can make our lives betters,” said Kevin Shroba, a plant engineer for ASTG. ASTG’s energy efficient building was built from the ground up. The lights are LED. There are new, highly efficient boilers. The company has even analyzed paper recycling since losing their waste hauler in the move.
Since the company opened its new 124,000-square-foot facility, it has received about $640,000 back in incentives from Nicor and ComEd (ASTG is a big user of heat and water). Using variable speed drives has netted about $8,000 back and using LED lighting with 1,000-watt fluorescent bulbs has resulted in $131,000 in incentives.
Future sustainability projects the company is kicking around: solar panels, and turning coated product and packaging material into solid fuel waste. This would redirect materials (off-spec product waste, plastic packaging bags, stretch wrap, etc.) from landfill to productive uses.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from VIA’s Sustainability Committee meeting is found in Steve Jobs’ quote: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
As part of its strategy, ASTG embraced ISO 14001 as a company. VIA members and guests had the rare opportunity to learn how ASTG’s all-in, all-of-us culture is moving the company forward as a socially conscious, mindful manufacturer.
Michele Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a B2B storytelling and content company for culture-driven organizations and the storytelling agency for the Valley Industrial Association.
Next VIA Sustainability Committee Meeting
Wednesday, November 14, 2018 @ Valley Industrial Association
2000 S. Batavia Ave, Suite 110 | Geneva, IL 60134
Miranda Rodriguez, founder of Marketing Uninhibited, loves rabbit holes. She regularly jumps down them to advise businesses about marketing (as a word girl, I’m awestruck by people who voluntarily do this). Miranda and I grabbed a couple leather chairs at Tredwell Coffee, a super chic hangout in downtown Aurora, right next to her office. We chatted up marketing like it was everybody’s top priority (and it really should be).
As a writer, I know for fact that asking the right questions can mean the difference between flying down the highway and sitting roadside with a flat. So as Miranda started talking, I found her general conversational wisdom about brand and marketing absolutely fascinating. So I offered to write a blog on it. Here’s what she shared.
Start with Discipline
Your to-do lists and goals are golden. Stick with them. This takes severe discipline (the kind my fourth grade teacher Sr. Monica demanded — strict and clear). Growth-bound businesses are overwhelmed. For example, networking is a goal that consumes a lot of time. So does blogging and social media and speaking gigs. Focusing on less with more effort gives more focused results (and keeps your sanity in check).
Question No. 1:
Does __________ (insert marketing activity here, like: networking event,
sponsorship, social media spend, etc.) fit the business goals
our company is trying to achieve? No? Then it’s a “no.”
Trust the Process
You have to trust your marketing. Believe in marketing like you believe in your dog at the end of a bad day or your best friend from college who never let you walk home alone. No matter your marketing plan, you have to trust it will work. Marketing is a long haul. Frustration after a week is energy wasted. Give your brand strategy up to six months.
Question No. 2
Is our marketing strategy taking us in the direction we want to go?
If You Have a Vision, Then You are Sound
Recently, I was sharing with a client our desire to grow in 2019. He said to me, “Just saying you want to grow is a step toward making it happen.” Our exchange reminds me of Miranda’s point about vision: If you see where you want to go, you have a sound business. You’ll build your path. She says you have to be “unwavering” in what you want to accomplish. You might not know all the steps (that’s where Miranda comes in, so keep her contact information close!), but keep going. While minutia is an important part of the process, the larger vision is just as important. I loved how she explained that when you understand the big picture, the little steps in between make a lot more sense.
Question No. 3
Do you believe, with 100% confidence, in your business mission?
How do you find your brand confidence? Share your ideas here so we can keep the discussion going.
“Seriously. Are we really husband and wife now?”
The question sounds like a refrain that a couple might utter while standing at the altar. But for my beautiful bride of 27 years, it comes up nearly every evening as we transition from business partners to life partners.
Friends, family and clients are fascinated (and dumbfounded) that Michele and I operate K+L Storytellers AND are wife and husband. “We’d be divorced” is a common response we hear through a haughty laugh and swig of a vodka-esque drink.
One point for sure: It’s not always easy. In fact, it can get darn right nasty as business and marriage roles often intertwine, making neither very fun.
So how do we make it work?
There’s not an easy answer. One advantage we have is that our children are older. They are not tugging at Mom every 15 minutes. Another advantage is that we’ve been in business together on and off since 2003. The nature of the business has shifted, from public relations/communications to storytelling and content.
Our business, like so many others, took a massive blow in late 2007 through 2011 when our clients were cutting costs in their own fight to stay afloat. As a result, I returned to the corporate world, which stabilized our family and financial lives, but also strengthened my education. I worked with younger people who mentored me in SEO and social media. I teamed with marketing professionals who guided me on brand strategy. I sat next to data scientists who analyzed and heralded the importance of the numbers behind PPC, website visits and posted content clicks. I learned from other business owners on how to grow a business, engage new clients and how to better manage cash flow.
And then, through no fault of my own, I was laid off on my 58th birthday.
After countless job interviews and with no contract in hand, Michele asked if I wanted to rejoin the company. I was humbled and embarrassed because it was the only offer on my plate. But I was hardened in my resolve to help build the business back to peak form.
We are doing that. Together. As business partners. As wife and husband. As “The First Couple of Story,” a phrase used to introduce us recently as we shared the speaker stage. If that’s how people see us, we’re all in.
We comfort in knowing how the other person thinks, how we best work and what makes the other person’s head explode. We know we’ve always got each other’s backs. We can avoid landmines by staying out of each other’s way and trusting the other’s skills. We’ve learned to take emotion out of our strategy discussions (not easy for my Italian partner), and we’ve become better listeners.
One absolute key to our business success is to physically and verbally shut it down at the end of each Friday. It’s satisfying to play husband and wife with a martini (me) and a glass of Malbec (Michele) in hand on the back terrace at the end of the week. Wouldn’t you agree, Babe? (Full disclosure, Michele ignores me when I let this slip in a business setting. However, I often notice a hint of a smile.)
Tomorrow, Aug. 31, is our wedding anniversary, and I am more sure than ever that in business and in life, I picked the right partner.
Who is the little girl in the picture? Are the firemen in this picture happy? Regretful? What were their dreams?
On Aug. 1 and 2 at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum, I'll be teaching middle schoolers how to write in a six-hour, two-day short story writing workshop called Your Extraordinary Story.
When young authors find creative confidence -- creating the characters, plot, voice and details, editing their work -- they can tackle just about anything. Write a story. Be an author for life.
This is the third year for Your Extraordinary Story. It started with a friend (thank you, Alex!) whose daughter liked to write. I put a flyer together and, boom, we had a workshop at the Aurora Public Library.
I had always wanted to encourage youth to write because I meet many adults who tell me they can't put a sentence together. Honestly, I attribute this to someone in their life who planted the self-limiting belief. Was it a teacher who scrawled "F" across the top of an English paper? Or someone who said, "That sounds ridiculous" to a poem or story?
Writing is like anything else -- with encouragement and practice, you can be truly great at it. And it's so exciting to shape ideas, like clay, with words. Writing is everyone's tool.
I do one YES for Youth workshop each summer and upon request (we launched YES Corporate for companies earlier this year- super fun!). Writing makes a difference. Here's proof.
Every Tuesday this past school year, I took YES to remedial readers at Washington Middle School in my hometown of Aurora. Guess what? The My Genius Now program, which connected the arts with remedial readers, saw reading scores go up! I was excited about this leap, but not surprised. Reading requires confidence too.
These young authors inspire me. They trust their intuition when they create. They are brave. You have to be brave to write. You're sharing ideas, a story arc, a character's hopes. You choose words from a pool of thousands. You choose whether these words are quiet or loud or melodious or staccato. You're prioritizing arguments along a line of thinking. You are blossoming out the story with vivid detail.
Children do all of this without thinking, without fear. They trust their inner creative.
Back to the picture. One can only imagine their lives. And that is the place where ideas are born. The imagination. That's where photos like this one endure.
Courage. Words. Creativity. Confidence. Writing. YES!!!
To register for Your Extraordinary Story, go to Eventbrite. For more information, contact Michele Kelly, co-founder of K+L Storytellers, at (630) 697-2652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.