Change Management Stories
Once upon a time, there was a change-management consultant. One day, this consultant met with the CEO of a client company to discuss a major project—a project that required a fairly substantial culture change. Realising that the project was going to be especially tough, the consultant had to take time out from his discussion with the CEO and think carefully about how to meet the challenge ahead.
Chapter 1: The Bright Idea
After drawing on his past experiences in change programs and reflecting on what he had learned during many training workshops and courses, the consultant thought he had the answer. He would use storytelling in the change management project, to engage and inspire managers and employees to follow the behaviours and adopt the values required for the new corporate culture.
The consultant met again with the CEO and explained his plan. The CEO, perplexed, decided that since his company was paying for results, he would need to go along with the consultant’s strange-sounding idea.
Over the next few weeks, managers at the firm sat down with the consultant in a number of workshop sessions, where all they did was recount true stories about events that had happened in the company’s past.
What the consultant was hoping for was to draw out a list of stories that exemplified the desired new behaviours that managers and employees would need to adopt, for culture to change as the CEO had described.
Chapter 2: A Setback and a Bounce-back
Alas, it was not to be. None of the stories—fascinating as they were—portrayed any correlation with the desired culture. If leaders in the company started relating any of the stories that had been gathered, they would succeed only in reinforcing the existing, undesired ways of thinking and acting.
The consultant was crushed, but knew he had to regroup and figure out a way to make storytelling work in the change management program. Resourceful as he was, the consultant set out to create some new true stories. Over the following weeks, he worked with individual managers to set-up situations in which they modeled the new behaviours.
For example, one of the change requirements was to get managers more involved in activity on the shop floor, instead of being shut in their offices for most of the day. So the consultant set up a scenario in which a senior manager called one of the transport supervisors out of the office in the morning when all the drivers were collecting their vehicle keys and route information.
The senior manager loudly declared that the two of them were going to join (driver X) on his day’s deliveries–and join driver X they did. Both of the managers of course, were in on the plot, whereas driver X was not. Sure enough, within days, other managers, office staff and drivers were passing on the story of how managers were getting out of their offices and into trucks.
Chapter 3: Storytelling in Change Management Wins the Day
Similar stories were “made” and went on to be told. Word was spread (organically and with a little deliberate corporate communication) across the organisation, which comprised sites in multiple locations. Some months later, the company announced the forthcoming changes and went ahead with implementation.
Many corporate change initiatives fail as a result of resistance. However this particular tale is one of success, not failure. The company here succeeded because our hero utilized change management storytelling, creating stories that resonated with employees in a more engaging way than facts, figures, slides, and charts. Of course these were used too, but only after change management storytelling had sewn numerous seeds as to the cultural shift that needed to happen.
The Moral of the Story
Changing culture is by far the hardest element of change management to execute successfully, mostly because you are dealing with people and their paradigms. To change culture, you have to connect with people’s feelings and emotions, something which the power of storytelling has been able to do unequivocally since mankind developed the ability to tell stories.
So if the time comes when your company needs to make a cultural shift, it’s really worth adding the power of storytelling to your change management efforts.
The first thing to do is collect notable stories; ones that people in your organization will know to be true. Next, pull out the ones that exemplify the values and behaviours that you want to introduce. Unlike the tale of our intrepid hero, there’s a good chance you will find appropriate stories to tell. If not, make some, which as you’ll hopefully recognise, is not the same as “make some up”.
Nothing will guarantee you to successfully change organisational culture. However, it costs little to leverage the power of storytelling as lubrication for the gears of change. Like any other tool in the change management toolkit, used judiciously, storytelling in change management can help your company leadership to successfully implement change and hopefully, live happily ever after.
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