The following blog is the first in a three-part series that examines how storytelling helps drive change.

Stories are the heartbeat of change. They can inspire a shift in perspective or reveal unspoken motives of resistance. Paying attention to the stories circulating among the workforce impacted by changes and using storytelling as a purposeful component of your change communication strategy can go a long way to increasing adoption. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Stories Reveal What People Think (and Feel) about Change

There are several types of stories people tell themselves about change – and they’ll tell other people these stories if they’re given the chance. Listen carefully to each of these heartbeats of change.

“Let me tell you what happened the last time we went through this sort of change project.”

This is the story about how poorly change was managed during the last implementation. Such stories are rich in lessons learned.

“Let me tell you what is going to happen if we attempt this change.”

Instead of calling up the past, this story points to the future. It predicts change impact by defining the gap between the current state and the future state. It helps build the “what’s changing story” and feeds into the development of persona profiles and journey maps.

“Let me tell you what a pain it is doing X, Y, and Z.”

This story identifies an end user’s pain points when performing a current process or navigating the existing system. It points the way to future improvements. User-centered stories are the hooks on which change leaders weave a narrative that resonates across the organization.

“I’m way ahead of you. I’m already there. Let me tell you what I see.”

This is the visionary story. As a change leader, you should be telling this story. If you make it authentic and relatable, your visionary story will be re-told by people across the organization.

  1. Stories Ignite Change

The first of December, 1955. Rosa Parks, a 42-year old African-American civil rights worker in Montgomery, Alabama, riding the bus home from work, refuses the bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. Parks is promptly arrested. The story of this bold, defiant act quickly spreads and becomes the primary catalyst for the famous Montgomery bus boycott, a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement.

This small but significant act of resistance, and the way this story catalyzed a larger movement, is a memorable example of the power of stories to change history. The ability of stories to galvanize people around monumental change events can also be applied to business transformations.

Who are the change heroes in your organization, whose actions (bold, counter-cultural, innovative) serve as sparks igniting a broader movement? How do those actions advance your strategic vision of change? What real-life stories can be used to emblematize your transformation initiative?

  1. Stories Shape the Larger Narrative

We tend to use the terms “story” and “narrative” interchangeably, but they are distinct concepts. A story is a chain of events propelling a character from one state of mind, place, situation, etc. to another, whereas a narrative is a concept or vision connecting many stories to a larger system of meaning.

For example, Rosa Parks’ iconic act of resistance was one of many unique, individual stories that made up the collective experience of the civil rights movement. All those stories, all those experiences, came together in the great narrative of change articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s a lesson here for leaders who are responsible for driving enterprise-wide transformations. To fully realize the power of story to inspire change, you must learn how to elicit and amplify individual stories at the shop floor level in relation to a visionary change narrative at the enterprise level.

  1. Stories Make Complex Change Relatable

The complexity of transformational change within a business can make it difficult to understand, much less embrace. Detailed process diagrams are necessary to map out the future operational state, but as a communications device, their complexity often creates more questions than answers. Stories can be used to simplify complex change, making it understandable and relatable to the audience.

Consider the case of user adoption in an asset management transformation. If we engage a materials manager in a day-in-the-life scenario dramatizing how she will go about ordering materials in the future, she will be more comfortable embracing that change. Why? Because, when the information about the new process is embedded in a narrative structure, such as an animated persona journey, the materials manager perceives something more than boxes and arrows: she sees herself as a character in a story about the future.

Stories Matter

Will the people who depend on your leadership embrace the transformations of tomorrow? That depends on how well you manage the heartbeat of change. For this reason, storytelling is not an optional skill for change leaders; it’s an essential device in your communication toolkit.

The second article in this series, “The Heartbeat of Change”, will explore how technology extends the reach and impact of stories, especially in our workplaces that are increasingly virtual and digitized.

David Welch

David Welch

Principal Consultant, Infosys Consulting

David Welch is a Principal Consultant in the Infosys Consulting Talent & Organization practice. He has over 20 years’ experience in the learning & development profession, helping organizations drive change through learning strategy, curriculum design, content development, change management, and communication.

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