Our Thinking

Storytelling: Is it Just for Children? Or is it Also an Effective Change Management Tool?

Posted by Deb Buxton on May 5, 2014 11:59:52 AM

We all grew up hearing stories. Whether it was a fairytale, a Disney version or a family treasure, stories have always been used to communicate, teach and share information. Throughout time, people have learned by remembering the moral of the story, the important lesson, a takeaway. Just think about the age old tale of the tortoise and the hare. The moral of the story has stood the test of time and is just as relevant today in 2014 as it was many years ago. In fact, all someone has to do is mention the tortoise and the hare, and you instantly can relate to the topic.

Think about a good movie that had you glued to the screen or a book that you could not put down. Think about how you learned from friends or colleagues when you heard a story about their journey, challenges, and a travelling tale. Stories can change the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act. They can capture our imagination, illustrate ideas, arouse passions, or inspire us more effectively than just reading hard data and facts.

Human beings are better able to receive and retain real-life examples over the logical abstracts and concepts of communication. Often, these everyday life scenarios teach us lessons without the sender or receiver even being aware this is happening. When a person is relating an event using a storytelling method, they are often able to put complexities into perspective for the listener while building a respectful relationship. Who’d have thought?

We are learning that storytelling is a great way to instill a message outside of the fairytale realm. Business leaders are recognizing the value of using storytelling methods throughout their organizations. And storytelling is becoming a powerful change management tool that is used as an engagement opportunity with co-workers, employees and customers. Many companies have recognized the value and intentionally use this. Companies are teaching storytelling skills to their executives, and Business schools are adding storytelling courses to their curriculum.

Organizations have their own stories to tell. Employers use stories as a natural point of entry for new employees to gain insight into understanding the culture of the organization. Leaders are using this messaging technique to communicate to their employees. Whether it occurs in a hallway conversation or in a corporate boardroom, storytelling can be used to inspire people and to motivate a change.

Motivate a change… sounds like something on the change management team’s list of goals. When looking at change management strategies, communication is often the number one tool. By incorporating storytelling into the communication toolkit, change leaders may be able to strengthen their impact. When relating a story about a change, the use of moving experiences leaves a lasting impression on the listeners. Your credibility becomes real when the audience can make a personal connection to the story. The change described in the story can be compared to something that is meaningful to the listener. The listener begins to integrate the story as they understand it to the future change that is on the horizon. In fact, research is showing that up to 70% of what someone learns is through stories.

Storytelling can be viewed as an art form, but many people use it every day without knowing it. And they are often unaware of the effect their story had on someone. We often repeat stories we have heard because they made sense. We related to them personally and appreciated the value of the message and how it was much more powerful and probably less threatening when delivered within a story.

If you are thinking about adding storytelling to your change management toolkit, there are some tips and tricks that you may want to consider:

  • Kiss it: “Keep it simple, seriously.” Avoid jargon and be specific. You may only have a few minutes, so use them wisely. Provide the listener with some context. This is important as you will not have them engaged if they cannot get onto the same page as you. Context can make or break a story. Try to include enough background to allow the listener to connect with the story. Keep it short. Short means around five minutes. If the scenario and audience allow, a few more minutes can be worked in, but with respect for time management, aim for the five-minute mark.
  • WIIFM: Always include a WIIFM (What’s in it for me) message. This makes it real for the listener. They are relating to the story. When possible, add analogies that are relevant to the audience. It shows that you are aware of their situation and they can again relate in another way.
  • Emotions: Make an effort to include emotions or an element of surprise. This adds a little entertainment value and makes it memorable for the audience. The ultimate effectiveness of the story will be driven by its delivery.

Storytelling can be used in many parts of business communication. When you want to introduce yourself to a group, it can be the vehicle you use to reveal who you are. When used for the WIIFM message, it helps to build the trust relationship. Perhaps you would like to lend a teaching moment to your audience by telling a story about how a particular change in behavior, attitude, or even perspective, resulted in a positive or negative consequence. Best and worst case scenarios can be demonstrated in a story that will leave the listener with a memory or what to do or not to do when…

Storytelling requires some life experience. We all have it. Use it to engage your listeners and to sell your case for change. Stories are how we remember. We tend to forget lists and bullet points.

Stories that are effective and memorable are retold over and over again by many different people. They become part of the culture of your business. People will tell them repeatedly, good or bad, so make sure you have armed them with the ammunition that you want known about your business. Use the stories that will continue on to bring home the reason for the change. It will continue through the ranks of employees and live on until the next change. If you are lucky, it will shine a positive light on the culture for future change because the story was a great one.

So, to end on a single thought: When thinking about leveraging storytelling as a change management tool, Kevin Kelly said, “A fact is interesting, an idea is important, but only a good story, a good argument, a well-crafted narrative is amazing, never to be forgotten.”

 

Topics: Change Management, Methodologies

Our Thinking - The Online Blog is a source for insights, resources, best practices, and other useful content from our multi-disciplinary team of Onliners.

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