Have a Fish Story – Inspire Change!


October 23, 2015. ‘Have a Fish Story – Inspire Change!’

Jim Donald, former CEO of Starbucks, Haggen Foods & Pharmacy, and other companies, says every leader needs a ‘fish story’ to communicate his vision and inspire change.

Jim Donald is not your average executive. He made his reputation from successfully turning around several major, struggling companies—and was also featured in one of our recent newsletters as a great speaker and storyteller.

One of the more memorable moments from his executive career, was as CEO of Haggen Foods & Pharmacy—which he was hired to turn around.  After several months of struggling to make employees understand the need for change, he called a major town hall meeting of 1,800 employees.

He had a surprising and dramatic opening of his speech to the meeting group using a ‘fish story’ (yes, literally!…), making an unforgettable impact on all those present.

Although he took a number of actions to turn around the company, apart from his town hall meeting—his speech to employees at a critical time is a good example of how presenting with impact can play a major role in inspiring people to change.

You can watch Jim Donald tell and demonstrate his fish story in the video clip below, from his presentation at a leadership seminar to the U.S Naval Academy in 2010 (skip to 3’52” where his presentation starts):

Based on his executive turnaround experiences Jim Donald developed his own 6 Steps for Leadership and Success:

1. Have a ‘Fish Story’—leaders must have a compelling story to bring across his message and make change happen.

2. Never be Bigger than Your Frontline Staff—put your employees first and recognize them for what they do.

3. Go Where You’ve Never Been Before—think new, and even do completely different things from the past.

4. Communicate to Everyone—Jim Donald made it a trademark to send out a short message to all employees every day.

5. Encourage Risk Taking with the Freedom to Fail—let people know they are permitted to fail to encourage risk taking and new thinking.

6. Celebrate the Success of Others—do make a point of celebrating the success of others across the organization.

Trond Varlid

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.