Updated: Jan 13
The Impact of Storytelling in Change Management
It’s likely you’ve experienced some change in the workplace during your career that’s left you wondering “why?”, consequently leading to other questions like “ how does this change apply to me?” or “what do I get out of this?”. There’s been plenty of times where organizations decide to make a change and end up leaving employees feeling left outside the loop. They also try to convince these same employees to be the driving force of the change, an even harder result to achieve.
Sometimes, the new change just isn’t compelling enough for those outside of decision making for it to fully reach its’ potential. So how do leaders overcome these challenges and get employees to trust and support their organization during the change process Storytelling, one of the most influential tools used by change leaders, communications professionals and other leaders to help employees visualize the forthcoming change and understand their role within it.
Storytelling can change an employees’ entire perspective on the change initiative by simply helping them visualize it, answer questions about its purpose and most importantly, find out what it means to them. Employees want to know what challenges they can expect and how to minimize turbulence, a well-developed change story can provide this understanding. People are more likely to get on board with the change and reduce their resistance during implementation when they have a story they can believe in and reference. Just as brands leverage powerful stories to attract consumers, the same concept applies to change initiatives. Storytelling can be used to paint a picture of a specific person, using a real example or highlighting personal experiences within the narrative also gives employees more reason to listen and relate. Similar experiences can unite employees across different functions and enable a stronger relationship between storyteller (change leaders) and the audience.
So why doesn’t just telling your employees about your new plan for change work more effectively? Employees beyond the boardroom need more concise information and less jargon, providing them with a business case for change instead of a well-rounded picture of how they are going to be involved, doesn’t provide enough transparency.
Change narratives are often used by communications professionals because they’re the ones who transfer the change message and introduce the initiative to everyone down the line. An honest narrative with an authentic tone can go a long way in communications. One of the details communications practitioners focus on is the extent to which they can create a captivating or persuasive message without sacrificing its straightforwardness, the same idea is represented in storytelling. Communications professionals always put their audience first, narratives connect with the audience and build trust which are key elements in reducing resistance during the change process.
Components of an Effective Change Story
Using personal experiences from trusted employees or highlighting them in the plot of your change story can turn them into “informal leaders”, this shapes the employee as a role model or focal point of the story for others to relate to. It’s likely that other employees have experienced a similar situation and may attempt to strive for similar results, using the underlying change initiative as a key element in solving the problem. Using a “protagonist” for the story showcases the initiative’s benefits, how the change was originally born and how it could be useful in other situations. Stories are an effective testimonial for communicating to your employees that this will work for them too.
Stories can also be co-created; this ensures you’re getting the right perspective. Take your story beyond the boardroom and do your research to find out how end-users are getting things done, in addition to what works well and what doesn’t. Ask them how they would improve the system or inform them of the possible outcomes if things persist as they are. The most important information to listen to is what they think the best way to implement the change would be, once they’ve understood why it’s needed. These elements will help you build your case and story, and might even save you from executing the wrong change before it’s too late. Co-creating stories bridges the gap between the idea and the people, it amplifies their voice and gives them a chance to play an actual role in leading the change.
In closing, give context and use real experiences when communicating change to employees; storytelling is much more effective than overwhelming people with features of your new change plan. People want to know why and how it’s important to them in order to fully believe in it. As change progresses, you can continue to add onto your story or highlight new employees to grow a network of inspiration.
Rachelle Su Marketing & Communications Coordinator / Associate Consultant Toronto