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Using storytelling to drive organizational change

Co-authored by Craig Wortmann

Are you ever in the situation where you know what needs to be done but have trouble getting others on board and ready to adopt change?

It’s a really hard task. Often we think coming up with the next great idea is the hard part, but rather it’s getting people to buy-in which can be the most difficult part of the process.

Why is this the case? Because it requires others, your team and/or your leadership, to do something different, to take a risk (even if it doesn’t seem like one to you), to change.

Change is something most of us avoid.

Change is scary and it’s something most of us dread. So how can you overcome this fear of the unknown which is absolutely necessary for the growth and prosperity of your organization? Here are two ideas to consider:

1) Get absolutely clear on why you want this change…

Explore why it’s good for the company and also why it matters to you. What does it mean to you as an individual? Tapping into to your 'why' helps you connect with your deeper desire, drive and motivation for working in the first place. There is something about this change that is so true to who you are as a person. When connected to this deeper desire, you respond better to objections and are more resilient in the face of obstacles that inevitably show up when trying to generate a shift in your team.

2) Tell your story of change…

Stories have an incredible power to give new perspective. With stories you feel like you are involved; you sense the emotion and see the possibilities of new ideas and rules to live by. Cognitively, when stories are told, specific areas of our brains fire to mimic the senses being addressed. When listening to a vivid story, we actually feel like we are there. This strong neural connection helps us see more deeply, understand the concept in more detail and retain more than we would through a logic based power point backed up by data and charts.

Here’s an example about stories I learned the hard way:

My team and I were eager to rollout a free coaching program to a group of employees as a benefit provided by their company. We were confident everyone would instantly latch on and love it; it was a great program and heck, it was free. However, when we explained it to the employees and went into detail about how they were getting high caliber executive coaches who charged upwards of $10,000 per year to coach private clients, to coach them for free, we were shocked to see how many declined the opportunity. I didn’t get it. Why with no risk, no cost and an amazing free benefit, would someone turn this down without even giving it a try?

My mistake was making a logical argument for why employees should sign up instead of connecting with the employee and her needs. The employee had never had a coach and didn’t know what to expect or what it would be like. She didn’t see the value she could get out of having a coach.

So my team and I got creative. During our next presentation, Kevin, an employee who’d already benefited from the program, stood up and shared how working with his coach Elizabeth had changed his life. He’d not only lost 50 lbs., a goal he never thought he could reach, but he also saw his energy increase and his performance spike. The impact of Kevin's story was immediate and not one person turned down the opportunity for a coach. Kevin's story not only made the concept of coaching more real, it also appealed to their desire of a better future, one where they had more energy and were performing better. His story did in 5 minutes what we couldn’t do in 90.

Lesson learned: The more real you can make an idea for change; the more you can SHOW not TELL how it will impact someone's life for the better, the greater engagement you will see.

What’s your story? How can you use it to get others on board with your plan?

Next time you have a big presentation or a strong need to gain buy-in, take the extra time to think about a story that highlights your point. This will work much better than any chart or data. As humans, we connect to emotion or facts.

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