How to Tell the CU Story and Get People to Listen

The secret of great storytelling? Emotion.

October 09, 2013
KEYWORDS ccuc , communications , cuna
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Paul Smith
Storytelling has been around since the dawn of man for a reason: It’s contagious, demographic-proof, memorable, and inspirational.
And credit unions have great stories to tell—from the birth of the movement to everyday experiences that change people’s lives, according to Paul Smith, director of consumer and communications research at Procter & Gamble, who delivered Tuesday’s keynote address at the Community Credit Union & Growth Conference in Uncasville, Conn.
But don’t confuse a recitation of facts with a story, advises Smith, author of “Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.”
A story requires emotion—something too many organizations are hardwired to downplay or ignore.
“Emotional things happen around us all the time, but we intentionally exclude them from our thought process because we somehow think it’s unprofessional,” Smith says.
In the 1980s, Procter & Gamble conducted field studies on why some families continued to bypass Crisco for lard. One woman told a researcher that lard was a healthier choice, which perplexed him, because he knew otherwise. Why? he asked. Because buying Crisco meant she wouldn’t have enough money to also buy milk, the woman replied.
“That hit him in the chest,” Smith explained. “This was a personal decision a single mom had to make because of the high price of his product.”
To his credit, the researcher didn’t just recite facts – “Respondent says Crisco’s too expensive”—but rather jotted down the entire story, which resonated within the company.
Likewise, founders of the credit union movement aren’t just names—they have stories worth telling, says Smith. Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen noticed from an early age that bankers either ignored rural areas in Germany or practiced loan sharking at residents’ expense, and became a cooperative pioneer.
Alphonse Desjardins stumbled into a story that shocked him while working as a journalist in Canada, when a judge ruled that a man had to pay $5,000 on a $150 loan he’d taken out with a bank a year earlier. He co-founded the first North American credit union in 1900; 200 credit unions operated at the time of his death, 20 years later.
“This is the noble history of the business that you’re in, and you should be incredibly proud,” Smith said. “I’m convinced there are stories like these all over this room. Find them. Share them. People want to do business with people who have a purpose to what they’re doing, beyond profit.”

Find more coverage of the conference here and at News Now.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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