A View from Blue Grotto

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stories illustrate values

Recently, I came across a podcast series - Stanford’s Educators Corner, a weekly seminar - Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders with presentations by some of Southern California’s preeminent business influencers, including Scott Kriens, CEO of Juniper Networks, and Joe Liemandt, founder and CEO of Trilogy.

Each podcast is nearly an hour long and is an audio of an actual college seminar. Rick Wallace, CEO of KLA-Tencor, shared the tenets of the company’s philosophies in a presentation published Wednesday, October 18, 2006. It was fascinating to hear first-hand commentary on some of the challenges and resolve of three decades of development at KLA-Tencor.

Of the 57-minute presentation, I found two points of particular interest: KLA-Tencor’s current strategies and philosophies are reflective of the company’s past leaders and history, and the challenges of managing the company’s culture when growing through acquisition.

Wallace stressed the understanding and communication of his company’s values. His examples illustrated the challenge of staying true to your values in an incredibly competitive market. One anecdote Wallace gave was when founder, Ken Levy, instructed KLA representatives to walk away from a deal with IBM - a key tenet of the company: be willing to turn away business in order to not compromise your own model.

And the importance of managing a company’s culture was evident in the merging of two major competitors, KLA and Tencor. Today, KLA-Tencor is mindful of their values when seeking out partnerships and acquisitions.

At Blue Grotto, we emphasize capturing and communicating the essence of what has made a company successful and the values that guide operations. Most companies enjoy long-time customer relationships as well as a loyal base of employees and vendors. Thoughtful communication of values and history is a chance to deliver a renewed sense of commitment to stakeholders while articulating the vision of today’s leadership.

Organizations that reach milestones, celebrate successes, plan for transition or embark on new initiatives generally have important stories to share. These stories have the power to inspire, excite and support those vital to your company’s purpose. It is stories like Ken Levy’s risk of walking out on a major customer like IBM that become a part of company lore, but more importantly become the vehicle to communicating the best practices that will serve as a road map for the future.

Email me with examples of how you capture – and communicate – the values and history of your organization. As Fred Talbot, former writer for Saturday Night Live, and communications professor at Owen Graduate School of Management/Vanderbilt (two diametrically different professional lives?) said: “All leaders have to be great storytellers.”

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.