Gabrielle Dolan Q&A
It’s a great pleasure to present the seventh installment in this series of interviews with some of the gurus of both performance and applied storytelling. This interview is with Gabrielle Dolan. I first encountered Gabrielle through the Australian consulting firm, onethoudandandone, that she runs with her partner, Yamini Naidu, because I quoted the firm in my dissertation. Read more about by going to the links below her photo.
To learn more about Gabrielle, go to this page to the right side of the page, and click on the top left circle. It will turn purple and say Gabrielle Dolan when you put your mouse over it. Her photo will then come up, and you can click on her profile.
Q&A with Gabrielle Dolan
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: I initially came into the field of organisational storytelling when my yet-to-be business partner Yamini Naidu showed me a digital story she had created. While everyone else in the class had created a digital story for personal use, she applied the skill for a business issue. At the time I was a senior manager at the National Australia Bank, and I immediately say how it could be applied. I had experienced the day-to-day frustration in the corporate world of trying to get employees engaged and motivated. I also been in too many boring presentations and roadshows that just did not make sense. Both situations are extremely frustrating.
Both Yamini and I realised that the power was not in the technology of a digital story but in the story itself. The more we researched, we discovered the whole field of organisational storytelling that was coming out of the USA, but no one was working specifically in the “organisational storytelling” space in Australia. We spoke to many Australian business leaders and the response was pretty much the same. “I knew that what we were doing was not working but didn’t know what else to do.” Organisational storytelling gives leaders a way to better communicate and engage with their employees. Not being able to do this is extremely time consuming and frustrating for them and their people.
What I really love about organisational storytelling is the sheer excitement and almost relief from leaders that now have a tangible way to better communicate and engage with their people. And when we hear the successes some of our clients have had with story when every other attempt has failed….that is priceless.
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: This is a good question and one I have been asking myself a lot. I think it comes down to two things. Firstly people are inundated with information, they are overloaded and we have known this for a long time. I think leaders are starting to realise that it is not just enough to provide information, the very good leaders will help people make sense of the information, and story can help them do that.
Also, we hear more and more from leaders the challenges in managing and leading the Gen X & Y workforce. This generation really wants to be inspired, challenged and motivated and again it is through story you can achieve this by showing them how they can make a difference and not just providing the reasons why things need to be down. Story is all about making the emotional connection.
Q: If you could share just 1 piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/narrative with readers, what would it be?
A: Be true to yourself…make the stories your own, narrate them in your own style, share stories that mean something to you. If you do this, people will listen and every time you tell it your listener will see your passion and feel your emotion…….and for a leader that is very powerful.
Q: Based on an article you authored in The Age, Dave Snowden criticized a quote from you, suggesting that you and your partner are involved in manipulation. You somewhat cleared the air, but Snowden still had the last word. Would you care to further clear the air and differentiate what your firm does from manipulation?
A: Dave made that comment not knowing what we really do, and we did clear the air privately. Dave’s concern, and why he used the word manipulation, was that business leaders already have enough power, so they should not also be given the power of storytelling. This comment is based on the assumption that all business leaders are evil, which is of course not the case.
The work we do with leaders is to literally give them very practical skills to help them better communicate. So it may be getting everyone in the organisation to fully understand the values or getting people engaged and excited about the new strategy or just simple getting your messages across at the next presentation in a way people understand, remember and can retell.
We absolutely realise the power of story and in all our dealings with client we emphasise a few things very strongly. Firstly, all your stories need to be true. Not just factually true but authentically true. To leave out critical details or to tell untrue or fabricated stories is wrong, immoral and simply not worth the discredit to your professional reputation if you do so. Secondly, we warn clients about the danger in using a story as a form of marketing spin. For example, we had a client who wanted us to help construct a story around an upcoming decision to offshore its operations. They knew it would not be received well at all and that their people had a real moral objection to the off-shoring of work. Most of the leadership team also had this same moral objection. Our advice was to not use a story; they were attempting marketing spin, and even the best story in this situation would still be marketing spin. That is manipulation and we would strongly recommend against that because it is wrong and because it just won’t work.
Q: An article that quotes your partner notes that your consultancy “help[s] embed storytelling into an organisation’s culture.” Can you talk briefly about how you accomplish that embedding with clients?
A: We normally work with clients on two levels. Firstly we normally skill the leaders in organisational storytelling through workshops and then help them embed this skill. What we mean by that is finding ways that they can continually find and share stories and apply their new skill of not only storytelling but story listening.
This may be as simple as at the start of each team meeting asking everyone to share a good customer service experience and then ensuring that the very good ones are communicated broader. Also, actively going out and listening to customers, their team and other stakeholders. We also work with clients to show them how they can start to use stories in their formal communications such as newsletters, websites and annual reports. Turning case studies into stories is another example. Some have even developed a technical database that is used to collect and share stories. Sometimes it is working with them so that their next leadership forum or conference is all designed with the underpinning methodology of storytelling so more knowledge is shared. Working with the learning and development people to ensure training is more engaging via stories is another good example. Believe it or not, we have helped take compliance training from boring to brilliant.
How businesses are starting to use story is amazing and innovative and we learn just as much off our clients as they do off us, which is the really exciting bit.