Why storytelling is critical to change management

by L&D08 Jul 2016
Organisational change is happening at such a rapid and constant rate, that it is now considered business as usual, according to Gabrielle Dolan, author of Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results.
The age of disruption is forcing organisations to communicate change in a different way, Dolan added.
“This process must be more agile, authentic and cut through all the ‘noise’ and information overload that employees deal with every day,” she said.
In particular, storytelling has emerged as a critical way to communicate organisational change.
“Companies like nab, BUPA and Australia Post are leading the way when using storytelling as a critical component for organisational change and are reaping the rewards. Storytelling is the oldest form of communication but in business it is only recently that companies have realised its power,” she said.
Dolan said Hisham El-Ansary is Managing Director at Bupa Health Services and a strong believer in the power of storytelling.
El-Ansary argues that, “we need to have leaders who are prepared to communicate in an authentic way. A genuine focus on connecting with people through real life examples is helping us communicate far more effectively with our people and our customers”.
Dolan outlines three reasons why storytelling is critical for organisational change:
Stories create an emotional connection
In an era of information overload, people are not looking for more details they are looking for leaders to make the information relevant and meaningful to them. An authentic story related to the business message can do this more powerfully than a list of facts and bullet points.
Stories have a ripple effect
Since stories create an emotional connection we are more likely to remember them, understand them and retell them to other people. This creates a ripple effect, which is far superior to the current cascade approach to communication, which is forced and in most cases ineffective.
Christine Corbett, Chief Customer Officer at Australia Post is overseeing one of corporate Australia’s largest organisational changes with the disruption to the postal services. Corbett sees storytelling as a critical part of this change stating that, “when leaders communicate in their own words, in a story that means something to them, others remember and relate to it and re-tell it over and over again.”
Stories are agile
Once leaders are skilled in storytelling and build up their capability and confidence, their storytelling can be applied in the moment. A personal story that is authentic, purposeful and requires limited preparation can be shared in a variety of ways.
There are three key factors that need to be in place for storytelling to be effective:
  • There needs to be a culture that is not only comfortable with their leaders demonstrating vulnerability and emotion.
  • There needs to be an investment in skilling senior leaders across the organisation in storytelling, as well as key support staff such as corporate affairs and HR.
  • The CEO and senior executive team need to role model both storytelling and story listening. As Corbett states, “You need to invest the time in getting out and talking to your teams and hearing their stories. They are the ones that really know what works and will make a difference.”