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Sunday, 29 September 2013 06:23

Telling the right story is the first step in successful change

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Humans need narratives in order to make sense of their world - we're hardwired to respond to stories.  If your change initiative doesn't provide a strong 'story' that your employees can understand, internalize, and communicate to others, I can guarantee it won't work the way you want it to.

"But," I hear you say, "I'm not exactly J.K. Rowling over here.  How am I supposed to come up with a 'story'?"

Don't worry - storytelling isn't about writing a novel about your business.  It's about creating a narrative that puts the new information in a context that helps people make sense of the change and understand why it's important.  Here's how to get started.

OPTION 1:  Tell the story from the employee’s perspective

In this approach, the business story is told from the employee’s point of view, and should include one or more of the following elements:

  • Use the employee as the protagonist to demonstrate why the new model makes sense (“Employees in X department were finding that processing new orders was taking more than 24 hours, which made it difficult to meet deadlines.  The new system will cut the average employee’s workload in half.”)
  • Describe how the new model will solve customer problems (“By cutting the 24-hour processing time in half, customers will get their orders faster and with less time spent on CRM.”)
  • Communicate how the new model or approach will make better use of resources, activities or partnerships compared to the old model (“By partnering with Acme Inc., we’ll gain new markets for our product line which will increase sales and help the company grow - which in turn will deliver benefits to all our employees in the form of greater job security, better career opportunities, and increased compensation.”)
  • Demonstrate how the change will better reflect the employee’s values, beliefs or ideology and thereby increase their job satisfaction (“By changing to the new system, we’ll cut our energy use by 25%, because we believe that companies have a responsibility to look after the environment and we know our employees believe that, too.”)

OPTION 2:  Tell the story from the customer’s perspective

In this approach, the story is told with the customer as the protagonist.  This approach is particularly useful for businesses with a strong customer focus and where employees are already inclined to identify with customers.

  • Describe specific challenges the customer faces and how the new model will help address these challenges (“We know our customers have been hit hard by the recession, so our new a la carte pricing helps them manage expenditures more effectively.”)
  • Use some drama and emotion to help the story resonate with employees (“Our products are used by 3400 childrens’ hospitals across the country.  Our new process will ensure that our products do a better job of making children’s surgical recovery times easier and less painful - which means they can go home to their families much sooner than they did before.”)

Remember:  Stories which are perceived as patronizing or overly simplified can backfire:  “They told us X in the meeting, but I saw on the news that our share price is down due to Y.  I guess they’re lying to us as usual.”  Whether you go with Option 1 or 2, keeping the narrative honest, transparent and authentic is crucial to organizational buy-in.

 

Adapted from Business Model Generation [ link to http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/ ]  by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.

 

 

 

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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