Planning and Preparing
It was after I interviewed Soundari Mukherjea on Learning Monday, that I learned about one more facet to her persona – pottery! The potter’s wheel is a metaphor for God’s creation of “clay”, man. As a people collector, I lend a platform for interesting people to talk about their life and work on the Lumiere Learning Monday.
A person has many layers and the longer one’s history with a person, the more stories one collects. Over our three conversations I met Soundari the storyteller, Soundari the blogger and Soundari the potter. When we first spoke, we connected on Hong Kong, Unilever, teaching, business consulting, and mentoring women, “Can you come as our Learning Monday guest speaker” was met with a spontaneous, “that would be and honour”. “She is distinctively beautiful”, says my sister, Amrita who worked with her in foreign bank. “Inside and out” I can add.
Superheroes and Superpower
Soundari has a powerful memory. She quotes from books and finds apt, specific, complete phrases in the stories she tells. Unlike many of us who scramble for a word, bungle through a quote or author, Soundari is sure and confident. Little wonder that she mentions D. Shivkumar, a powerful reader, sharer, and now an author, as her mentor. Soundari joined Unilever as summer trainee and worked as a manager. She is networked with her alma mater and continues to learn from the interactions. Being able to find good mentors and nurture the relationships across time and place is an important skill, especially for women managers. Soundari mentions R. Gopalakrishnan, one of the Unilever board members when she was management trainee. She is inspired by his storytelling.
Life and work have given Soundari multiple contexts for the stories to form and fuse. She was born and grew up in Chennai, worked in Mumbai. She moved countries and lived in Bahrain for five years and now in Hong Kong for sixteen years. Exposed to multiple cultural influences, people and businesses, Soundari believes that ones own story may seem unimportant but it has the potential to inspire and create a shift.
Business and Storytelling
Soundari loves to soak in what is around her. People and their stories fascinate her. She looks around for inspiration as every person has a story, its just that not everyone is a good storyteller. Soundari believes that one must try and make a mark wherever one is by being oneself and connecting with people.
Soundari became an adept storyteller over time. While working with clients she realised that not all leaders are good business storytellers. While they have inspiring stories, they do not always get desired outcomes. The prolific R. Gopalakrishnan, then Unilever Director inspired her to deliver great stories.
Soundari says business storytelling is an effective tool to teach communication. It is used to explain to sales teams, overcome resistance in the organisation, explain decisions and strategies, and explain data in presentations. It can be used in interviews; A message is best communicated.by cutting through jargon and keeping it simple.
Narrating and Connecting
Soundari talks about a recent time she heard Shankar Mahadevan do an interview. Avid Ganesh devotees, Shankar Mahadevan and his wife, Sangeeta keep an open house each Ganesh Chaturthi. Shankar talks about his experience when he decided to offer Cadbury chocolate as prasad. The events that follow seem a sign, nay blessing, for the faithful that he is. Soundari talks about how his personal and authentic storytelling can connect with the viewer. Shankar Mahadevan tells a powerful “connection” story that serves to reinforce his personal brand.
Soundari says, “in business storytelling, it is about the small experiences you have. They don’t need to be huge, life changing, but they should make an impact on yourself. Only then you can express your learning. What doesn’t interest you can be extremely inspiring for someone else“. Soundari talks about Deepali Naair, Marketing Director, IBM and her story about her background and small mistakes and learnings in her internship at Taj, Mumbai. That a business leader of her stature courageously talks about her mistakes while growing up make a huge impact on individuals starting their work journeys by making mistakes and growing as individuals.
Storing and Retrieving
Soundari gives a metaphor – stories are like rain water harvesting. When it rains, collect the water. You can use it when time comes. Stories are just like that. You listen or read something interesting note it down. You can retrieve it whenever you want. We come across just interesting stories, people, interviews that it becomes an information overload. Its good to have everything documented so as to not forget it.
When you try to change people’s opinion on sensitive issues, you face resistance. Storytelling is not about persuading people its about understanding the other person’s perspective. Only then can you spark change through conversations and programs in an organization.
Click on this link to see how perspectives on sensitive topics can be changed without the tough conversations.
Persuasion and Behaviour Change
Soundari talks about Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, the book ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado-Perez about short stories related to workplace gender bias and R.S. Sodhi, MD Amul on panic stockpiling of essentials during the lockdown announcement.
“You can show people all charts that you want, you won’t change their perceptions of the risk. What will change the mind is actually going through those events yourself or have someone go through them”, says Soundari.
Its always “Audience Before Content” (ABC). Stories needs to be relatable, generic yet impactful for everyone.Soundari Mukherjea
Shaping and Moulding
Brought up in a very supportive family, Soundari realises that she is privileged. And not everyone gets such opportunities and support. This drives her mentoring efforts to people, especially women and minorities, so they can get a leg up in business development. She started a skill building, connecting and mentorship program called ‘Empower’ through Amber Foundation to give women a place to grow, build networks and take leaps towards their business development.