Storytelling and Change Management: How To Win Hearts and Minds

5th May 2021Change Management

change-management-through-storytelling

Storytelling is the secret to successful change management.

Why?

Because, contrary to popular belief, change management is more about people than process.

In fact, lasting business change only truly happens when people change.

And people change only because they are moved to change.

Which means that you have to appeal to peoples’ emotions.

It stands to reason, therefore, that change management must win over hearts and minds to be successful.

The best way to do this is through storytelling.

Storytelling is your change management superpower

superpower

In business storytelling is often still seen as “fluffy” or “childish”.

Yet the best way to communicate is through story.

“Management fads may come and go, but storytelling is fundamental to all nations, societies, and cultures and has been so since time immemorial”

Stephen Denning – The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Storytelling is innate. It’s something we all do every day of our lives.

Indeed, in change management, your ability to craft and deliver a compelling and engaging story is a superpower that enables you to gain traction where otherwise you might encounter resistance.

Stories succeed where data fails.

This is because the typical change message conveyed in data and corporate jargon leaves us cold.

Appealing to our rational minds through logic and data may help understanding but it does nothing for buy-in.

Your carefully constructed Powerpoint presentation will soon be forgotten and your change management programme will face an uphill battle.

By contrast, storytelling uses words and images to bring abstract ideas and concepts to life.

Moreover, when you tell your story with authenticity and emotion you connect with your audience on a human level.

In so doing, you elicit an emotional response that builds empathy, trust and a desire to become involved in change.

This is why storytelling is fundamental to changing mindsets and behaviours.

Facts appeal to the rational mind but not to our emotions.

Undoubtedlly, we need to find meaning and connection before we commit to change.

Stories help us get there.

Building emotion into your storytelling

building-emotion-through-storytelling

Building emotion into your change management story requires a shift away from the “what” to the “why”.

Focusing on the “why” forces you to articulate a vision for a brighter future and an inspiring plan to get there.

Storytelling takes people with you on an emotional journey from where you are now to where you aspire to be in the future.

What’s more, as the vision becomes clearer through your storytelling your audience becomes more receptive to your message.

As your story unfolds, people engage with you.

Then, they discover the valuable part they can play in the change journey.

Finally, they become inspired and feel motivated to take action.

Of course, this only happens if you can build emotion into your storytelling.

You do this by:

  • Setting the scene and providing a context that we instantly recognise and agree with
  • Appealing to our senses of sight and sound through evocative imagery and music
  • Outlining a challenge that affects us all and giving hope that we can overcome it together
  • Showing how others have succeeded and inviting people to become the “heroes of the story”
  • Making your storytelling interactive and building on shared values and a common cause

How to use storytelling throughout the change management journey

Journey-bright-future

Change management is a journey.

As you progress along that journey you will need to continue to tell compelling stories.

If you fail to do so, it’s likely that early enthusiasm may wear off as people grapple with the real-life challenges of implementing change.

At the outset, your storytelling will be about vision and future prospects.

In other words, you build a framework for the shift from the old to the new, better way of working.

As you get into the change process itself, you’ll want to ensure that everyone feels they have a personal stake in the success of the project.

By assigning roles and responsibilities, you create the characters who through their actions will become the heroes of the story.

In this way change management becomes participatory. People embrace the change rather than resisting it.

Next, you seek out those early victories and share them in your storytelling. For example, a breakthrough that a team makes or a set-back that an individual encounters and then overcomes.

These “success stories” show the change in action. Moreover, they demonstrate tangible movement in the direction of the collective goal.

In addition, they provide examples for others to follow and help the change process gather momentum.

The effects of storytelling multiply as people naturally share their part in the success of the change programme and encourage others to do so as well.

Finally, you reach a point where the change is taking shape and solidifying.

Mindsets are evolving. New behaviours are taking hold.

People are changing and with them the business is changing.

One final story helps at this point. That’s the “retrospective story”.

In other words, illustrating how change has happened and the positive benefits that the change is bringing.

This reminder of your “Hero’s Journey” underlines your hard-won achievements and gives confidence for future change management initiatives.

Conclusion

No one ever said change management was easy.

It’s a business process that requires a rational approach to implementation.

But business change management does not take place in a vacuum.

It needs people to lead, enact and support the change.

For change management to succeed you need to win hearts as well as minds.

Your data-rational, information-dense presentations won’t connect with people on a human level.

The only way to do this is through the emotion that powerful storytelling unleashes.

Harnessing this emotion is the secret to lasting change.

For more articles on business change, please go to our change management blog.

If you need support to help your organisation to change and grow, please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time.

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