I love my new job, and I love my new title. I am the “chief storyteller” for SAP. My official title is senior vice president marketing, customer central, SAP, “chief storyteller,” but the chief storyteller part is what I find the most fun. I can’t take credit for the name, as that was given to me by one of our co-CEOs. But the point in his mind, I think, was that B2B companies have great stories to tell, especially SAP. In this digital age where information is overwhelming, breaking through the clutter and differentiating are essential and often overly complicated with the latest social, viral, or digital gadget. And what better way to do it than to simply tell the stories of how a company, in this case SAP, helps its customers, and how its customers help the business run better and improve people’s lives?
Lest this article start to sound too much like a sales pitch for SAP, let me share with you more about the journey, the challenges, and even a few tips (some borrowed), for making a difference in a new company, a new industry, and a new position.
First, my background is based in marketing for largely B2C companies — big B2C companies. However, the last five years of my career, I was the founder of my own company where I served as a marketing strategy consultant to 50-plus clients, many of which were B2B. That experience served me well in that I was able to not only grow my network and make a living, but I was able to work in industries, departments, and companies that were as small as start-ups and as large as Fortune 50 companies. This provided me with tools and knowledge that I hope will serve me well as I work to craft a new organization inside of the larger marketing organization at SAP — sort of like a start-up in the middle of a well-established organization.
The team I lead is called customer central, and we have been established, or have begun getting ourselves established, since January of this year when I started with the company. Our job is to help to humanize the SAP brand by sharing some of the amazing stories that our customers tell us about how our technology helps them run better and helps their customers live better lives. Using my B2C background to tell stories in a humanistic fashion, and to share these stories in and outside of the company to change perceptions, generate interest, and of course help sell technology, are the key objectives. The company itself is full of bright people who are passionate and very entrepreneurial so, culturally speaking, I feel right at home.
Still, I have been dubbed a change agent for most of my career, and while I resisted the moniker for a long time, I now know that there is value in that notion, but it comes with baggage as well. For clarity, Barron’s business dictionary defines a “change agent” as “a person whose presence or thought processes cause a change from the traditional way of handling or thinking about a problem.” The department and role for which I was hired fit that bill pretty well. Humanizing the brand through storytelling is not the traditional method or process that most companies employ. And if one really thinks about it, advertising and other forms of marketing are just stories of a different color, right?
To illustrate my point, I am including an infographic (a favorite storytelling method of mine) about the history of content. You can see from this fun graphic that storytelling has been the basis of all marketing for thousands of years. My great-grandmother used to set time aside every afternoon to watch her “stories” on TV. So the notion is certainly familiar, but the establishment of a department dedicated to this single notion is new.
I, like many, have been reading a great deal about the much storied Steve Jobs. Fast Company published an article called “An HR Lesson From Steve Jobs: If You Want Change Agents, Hire Pirates” written by Peter Sander. Here is a small excerpt from the article:
“‘It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.’ This quote, made back in the days of the original Mac development team, says a lot about how Steve viewed people and selected them for teams. It also speaks to the kind of team and team behavior he admired. To build a team, all organizations seek the best and the brightest people, particularly for their innovation and new product development organizations — that’s not what’s in question here. By seeking out the pirates, Steve took the idea a big step further.
A pirate can function without a bureaucracy. Pirates support one another and support their leader in the accomplishment of a goal. A pirate can stay creative and on task in a difficult or hostile environment. A pirate can act independently and take intelligent risks, but always within the scope of the greater vision and the needs of the greater team.
Pirates are more likely to embrace change and challenge convention…So Steve’s message was: if you’re bright, but you prefer the size and structure and traditions of the navy, go join IBM. If you’re bright and think different and are willing to go for it as part of a special, unified, and unconventional team, become a pirate.”
So I’d like to think I am a pirate of sorts and that the executives of SAP are, like Jobs, interested in the best and the brightest. But more than that, I have to believe that they want to hire those people who can “see the greater vision and the needs of the greater team,” and that are willing to “go for it as part of a special, unified, and unconventional team.” Because in today’s world, conventional thinking only gets you so far. It is the intelligent risks that pay big dividends. But creating this and still integrating with other “pirates” and other perhaps more traditional organizations are crucial to success in a giant company. Failure to do so can likely result in the sinking of the pirate ship.
While I have some tips of my own on how to navigate the waters with your pirate ship, I stumbled upon a great article entitled “9 Tips for Change Agents,” by Nicholas Morgan. I really like the point of view, but I was equally as amazed by the fact that it was written in 1996, which just goes to show you that some truths last.
The article is about Chris Turner who had been engaged at XBS to be a change agent. Here are her tips:
Be open to data at the start
“Even if you think you know what you’re doing, chances are you don’t know what you could be doing. Open up your mind to as much new thinking as you can absorb. You may find different and better ideas than the ones your organization started with.”
Network like crazy
“There is a network of people who are thinking about learning organizations. I’ve found you can get in touch with them easily. People say to me, ‘I can’t believe you talked with so-and-so! How’d you do it?’ The answer is, I called him.”
Document your own learning
“People in the organization need to see documentation for their own comfort. The smartest thing I did was to create a matrix of ideas from leading thinkers. I documented two categories of thinking — the elements of a learning organization, and the pitfalls to avoid.”
Take senior management along
Turner’s own education included benchmarking trips to Saturn, Texas Instruments, Motorola, General Electric, and other companies known for their innovative approaches to learning. “Some of the people in the senior group were very skeptical,” Turner said. “It helped to take them on these benchmarking trips to show them other companies that were actually doing some of the same learning practices.”
“You’ve got to be fearless and not worry about keeping your job.”
Be a learning person yourself
“Change agents have to be in love with learning and constantly learning new things themselves. Then they find new ways to communicate those things to the organization as a whole.”
Laugh when it hurts
“This can be very discouraging work. You need a good sense of humor. It also helps if you’ve got a mantra you can say to yourself when things aren’t going too well.”
Know the business before you try to change anything
“I don’t think you can do this work if you’re just a theorist. I’ve been a sales rep, I’ve been in a marketing job where I worked with the operations side. So when I go about the work of creating a change strategy, I already have an understanding of the people in our organization and what they do.”
Finish what you start
“I made a list of change projects we’d started and never finished in the past. We called it ‘the black hole.’ I determined early on I didn’t want to be part of a second-rate movie.”
I would offer just a bit more on a couple of these tips:
Network like crazy
In this digital age, it has never been easier to connect. The challenge is in connecting authentically. So my advice is to use the digital media and the good old-fashioned telephone to connect with people that you feel you could learn from but also with whom you have something to offer. It could be a POV, a connection, or just a person to brainstorm or bounce ideas off of. This has served me well so far as I have had meetings with no fewer than 50 key people inside and outside of SAP. I’ve taken those opportunities to be as spongy about information gathering as I can be, but more importantly, I tried to use the time to share the mission of our spunky little team and to offer our help wherever possible.
I’ve learned that networking will serve you well for years to come, especially when done authentically. If you go into the business of networking expecting some sort of personal benefit in the short term, you will be disappointed. Networking is like the stock market. Don’t do it unless you plan to be in it for the long haul. Networking is the business of relationships, and this is never more important than when you are a change agent and/or when you start a new job. Business is people, and relationships reign supreme, even in a digital age. Take the time to meet people, build trust, and give more than you get. I promise it will benefit you in the long run.
Have no fear and laugh when it hurts
I wrote a blog for iMedia on the topic of fear last year, and it was one of my favorites. In fact, I give speeches on the topic. I will share just the “tips” portion of this blog again because they are relevant:
1. Embrace fear.
2. Calculated risks are the rocket fuel of our society.
3. Eat your fear. It tastes good and will make you stronger.
4. “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” — Albert Einstein.
5. If you don’t first believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to believe in you, either.
6. The only voice you have to listen to without fail is the one inside.
7. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. (I actually own a USMC shirt with this statement.)
8. Living a public life is more dangerous than staying private, but much, much more rewarding. (Bloggers — this includes you!)
9. If you’re not getting “Laermered” every once in a while, perhaps you’re not reaching your full potential.
Taking a new job is scary under any circumstances, but it’s also exhilarating. My process has really forced me to embrace that which I preach above. I have embraced the fear of entering, as a change agent, into an industry that was largely foreign to me. Embracing your fear, or like point three says, “eat your fear” is something I try to do every day so that I can take calculated risks to help me stay sharp and engaged, help the company, and help my team. The only reason I think I have been able to do this consistently here and over the past several years is by believing in myself and knowing that there are at least a few good and important people whose opinions matter that believe in me too.
Change agents, by their very nature will always be targets for criticism and will more than likely continue to put themselves “out there,” which places them at even greater risk. So, one’s belief in oneself can never waver. Tips eight and nine above can stop you in your tracks if you let them, particularly when you are an outsider and new to a company. You must know that there are and will forever be “haters” in this world: people who use their resources to tear people down and see and proclaim only the worst in order to somehow make themselves feel better. But being a part of a strong community, where you can be immersed in a culture that feels natural, and where all are laser-focused on delivering innovation and wanting to truly make the world run better is nothing short of amazing and will drown the haters out. Fortunately, I have found such a community in SAP and have felt huge support internally, and I try to return the favor by listening, learning, and trying to give back…quickly!
Quickly adding value is essential in today’s world, and that has been true for me as well. If there is one area where I can say I truly feel the pressure it is in helping to make a difference, whether with my team or in support of others, right now! It may be that it is part of how I am wired. It may also be that my experience has taught me that the shine can wear off pretty quickly, and the best way to get past that is with “quick wins.” This is never truer than in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial company. The mantra, “what have you done for me lately” rings true. But for pirates, who are truly passionate about what they do, this is as comfortable as breathing in and out.
The next chapter in my own story has just begun, and as with most good stories, I wake eager to turn the page.