Stories that Bring Solutions

by dellclientcomm | March 12, 2021

Ahead of our first C3 event “Tech Stories that Bring us Together” we talked with Rav Mohapatra, the event’s panel moderator to discuss his experience and perspective on the value stories bring the IT professional. Our marketing lead for Dell Client Community, Leeanna Nelson, conducted the interview.

Leeanna: I’ll start first by asking a big question and we’ll see where our conversation takes us! How do stories impact careers and company progression?

Rav: Great question for my personal experience because I literally stumbled into IT.

I joined as a manufacturing shop floor engineer. Then I moved into commercial operations. I was always curious in the business of engineering but not interested in being a mechanical engineer; my side hobbies were devices, hardware, IT upgrades, etc. I was the annoying employee who upgraded everyone on my team to Windows 7 after IT told me not to touch it. My team got Windows 7 before the rest of the company! I thought it went well, but IT thought differently of course and I got a slap on the wrist for jumping into it.

Because my launch of Windows 7 went well, I became the resident IT person for the floor. I was in commercial operations and I had no formal IT training, but I had done some self-taught courses and took A+ certifications. From there, I also became the resident phone person to help with phone upgrades from blackberry to Android to the introduction of iPhone into the environment, so the team didn’t have to call the help desk.

So, for my first few years, in addition to my actual job, I did IT on the side. At the time we had the homegrown collaboration site where you’d post questions and crowdsource discussion. I was a huge blackberry loyalist and android fan, and my work and voicing my opinion on the site caught the eye of the Mobility department. I was invited to join the Mobile Council and considered a pro user. I was finally given a platform to share my opinions!

At the time, everything was focused on iOS but not so much on android. Our android management was lacking. The company launched a preview of a new android management system and I was part of the testing group. I enrolled and was really excited and . . . it was terrible. I went on the site to write a massive rant titled, “Why is android a second-tier citizen in this company?” and shared my thoughts on where and how to improve the system. My post caught a lot of attention, becoming internally viral.

This story leading to the viral opinion post was a direct catalyst to the Director of Mobility reaching out to me and offering me a position on his team. I was offered to build and run the android management system from scratch. He shared they had enough technical people on the team and was looking for someone to leverage their skills on the commercial side of things.

Things just took off from there for my career. That’s how I literally stumbled into IT.

Leeanna: That really could have gone the other way! Instead, you could have been led out the door for sharing your opinions like that.

Rav: I know. My rant could have backfired, but I had kept the tone professional. I stayed factual and respectful.  We are known for being open to multiple opinions, not just good news. We want the feedback because we need it to improve.

Leeanna: That’s good to hear. In that sense, how has GE leveraged stories to move the company forward?

Rav: Again, they want to hear opinions. They want to hear the user stories in order to improve. They want to understand employee’s stories as well because we’re also users. People have gotten promoted because they used user stories to solve problems. It is all about a positive feedback loop. Building better solutions comes from user stories.

Leeanna: Gathering the user stories is usually the easy part. What many professionals, especially those in IT, can struggle with is translating the technical side of the story to be digestible by leadership, someone who’s not in the weeds. What advice or experience do you have to help professionals translate those stories into solutions-focused wins?

Rav: I always suggest doing a peer review for any user or customer story. I’ll take it and pull what I think is important and then send it to my own internal group of reviewers to see if it resonates with them the way I want. Some people are really good at translating from story to technical or technical to story, but even if you’re good, it’s still really valuable to have it reviewed by people who are the counterbalance to you so that it’s not siloed to your perspective only.  Once you have a few people look it over, you have a more well-rounded picture of what’s happening in the story—what the solution is for moving forward.

Peer review is well-received by leadership here —when you bring a story to executive teams and you say, “This isn’t just my interpretation, it’s been reviewed by several people, and this is why we think it’s a priority story to share.” That always gets leadership to tune in more.

Leeanna: With your experience in business development and in communications/PR, how do you feel a company can use the power of stories in a company strategy? How have you seen GE apply strategy and story together?

Rav: I think stories are the feeders for a good strategy. Setting a strategy without a story is just throwing a dart at the wall—you don’t know what you’re trying to solve for. It goes back to the positive feedback loop. You’ll have some stories that give insight into the voice of the customer and you understand how to feed that into your strategy. Then you have to market and socialize the strategy and solution you’re solving, all based on that story.

We’ve all seen where a company announced a new product/feature/upgrade that wasn’t marketed or announced well and it just fizzled away. It comes as a blip on everyone’s radar because there was no life around it—no story to drive the marketing.

You shouldn’t have a strategy without story, particularly end user stories, being one of the big tenets.

Leeanna: I know if I’m looking to buy something new, I trust a customer’s story or review on the product before I trust what the company is telling me what I should like.

Rav: Exactly. That’s the translation of the technical to story that you need, but then you have to socialize it. You take the technical bits of the product release and why it’s useful and disseminate it to the end user.

For example, you have to know why a larger track pad on a laptop is better for you. You don’t care that the trackpad is 57% larger. What you care about is better palm recognition and that you don’t have to lift your fingers to drag something across the screen. Those are tangible experiences that resonate with you because the trackpad is 57% larger, not the actual product specs.

Leeanna: That’s why peer review is so important! Whoever designed the trackpad could have really honed in on the 57% size increase and put that in the product description and ran with that instead of the enhanced usability features. They would have missed the mark on the marketing and sales strategy entirely.

Rav: You’re right. If you take a strategy without a user story, you can make a trackpad larger, but if you haven’t tested it and made sure the usefulness is there, you’ve lost the end user before you’ve even released it. Most end users won’t say they want a larger trackpad, they’ll say they want to be able to do something better with their trackpad. You have to incorporate socialization into your strategy through stories.

Leeanna: Switching gears a bit, we can’t get through a conversation talking about stories without talking about remote work for the past year. How has GE helped people stay together virtually?

Rav: From an IT perspective, the company uses collaboration sites, like Yammer, to stay connected. We also adopted virtual happy hours to come together during the workday to connect. We do it based on organizations, not just specific small teams, so it’s great to see a lot of different people on one call.

My team and I try to join just to hear some of those use case stories we’re looking for to help improve employees’ remote work experience. You never know when someone is going to share their experience working at home that could help us make improvements on something internally. We have found common threads and gleaned ideas to consider upgrading or improving products and services we work on because of these happy hours.

Leeanna: Has GE sped up any digital transformation or other releases because of COVID-19?

Rav: Of course. One of the largest benefits of the pandemic and working from home was upgrading our internal collaboration tool. Prior to the pandemic, our collaboration tool was suboptimal. Our meetings tool received a lot of complaints and had a low NPS. Our team had planned for 2020 to be our year to roll out an entire overall of the collaboration tool. It was going to be great! Then the pandemic hit, everyone goes home, and our team is left to speed up our timelines. Our tool was based on being in office and everyone being on the network. And now none of that is available with everyone at home. The pandemic accelerated a 10-month rollout of the tool to 3 weeks. However, it had a great adoption rate! We socialized the rollout, and everyone was accommodating and understanding of needing to adapt to a new interface because of the benefits to them working at home.

From when everyone went home, we had 3 weeks to start rolling it out department by department. 6 weeks after that and we had the entire company using this new tool. NPS has since skyrocketed since the launch!

Leeanna: Wow! That’s incredible. How have you taken these positive stories to help improve the tool even further?

Rav: We celebrated the adoption rate up the chain and continued open conversations around specific features to collect any bugs or usability issues to fix. Now that we’re a year into the new tool, we’re getting more and more stories of “It’s great, but . . .” and now people want more features. Which is exactly what we want—the tool functions as we need and we’re always looking to improve.

Leeanna: Stories keep a company moving forward. I know we’re both looking forward to the event on March 29 to bring the community together. Any final thoughts to share?

Rav: Register for our event! I’m serious, but also to wrap things up, my biggest point to reiterate is that your strategy needs to have stories as a tenet. You need the feedback loop. Your company can’t improve without the good and bad feedback.

Negative feedback can always have a positive spin. When you get negative feedback, it’s still negative feedback, but now you have a problem to solve. You can look into solutions to improve the situation. And when you bring the problem AND the solution to leadership, you’ve taken that story and given it a path to improve the product or service, which contributes positively to the overall strategy.

Join us on March 29 for C3: Stories that Bring Us Together!

Share Post

Additional Reading