Effective change storytelling: 7 essential considerations for decision-makers

March 11, 2024

Aaron White and Blair Mainwaring

Organisational change is constant, but the success of that change hinges on effective storytelling. For leaders, crafting a compelling change narrative is crucial, especially when changes are mandated. Blair Mainwaring and Aaron White have brought together their substantial experience in strategic storytelling to form a unique offer for organisations facing or about to undertake change. Below, they share seven considerations that they believe are important for leaders to keep in mind as they approach change, drawing from their expertise in guiding leadership teams:

  1. Simplicity is key
    In the face of mandatory change, the temptation to overcomplicate the story with jargon and detail can be high. However, simplicity is your ally. Breaking down the change into digestible parts helps ensure that each stakeholder can grasp the 'what', 'why', and 'how' of the change without feeling overwhelmed. Remember, clarity leads to confidence. Our approach has helped government organisations communicate transformation effectively.
  2. Honour the past
    Change can evoke feelings of uncertainty and loss. Acknowledging the achievements and legacy of your organisation can provide a sense of continuity. We recommend that leaders show respect for the past by demonstrating how the upcoming changes build upon, rather than disregard, the foundation that has been laid. This approach fosters a sense of pride and ownership and helps make any transition more palatable. Our work with a core government agency involved storytelling that was built on the whakapapa of the sector and helped foster a sense of pride and ownership among staff.
  3. Be clear on the mandate for change
    Ambiguity is the enemy of progress. When change is not optional, a vague mandate can lead to confusion and resistance. Articulate the reasons for the change with precision and conviction. Highlight the necessity of the changes and the positive outcomes they aim to achieve. A well-defined mandate helps guide your team through the uncertainty. For example, when working with a large UK insurer facing a grim outlook, we highlighted the necessity of change and the positive outcomes they aimed to achieve to provide a clear guide through the uncertainty.
  4. An optimistic outlook is essential
    It's natural for change that feels 'forced on us' to be met with scepticism or fear. We suggest counteracting this by painting an optimistic picture of the future. Emphasise the opportunities and improvements that the change will bring. An upbeat outlook can transform apprehension into enthusiasm, turning the challenge of change into a journey of growth. In our work with an energy company, this positive framing was essential for maintaining morale and motivation during a time of recalibration and change.
  5. Acknowledge the emotional reality
    Change is not just a logistical process; it is an emotional journey. Acknowledging the feelings that come with change provides support and reassurance. By validating emotions and fostering empathy, it is possible to cultivate a resilient and supportive culture that embraces change. Creating a safe space for dialogue and input from staff, as we did with a large government department, allows team members to express their concerns and hopes.
  6. CEO ownership of the story is critical
    The role of the leader cannot be underestimated. In times of change, people within an organisation need visible and authentic leadership. Our work with another corporate focused on the role of the CEO in standing up and honestly acknowledging the challenges the business faced. Unpleasant? Absolutely. Incredibly important and impactful? Totally.
  7. Select the right partner - one who can move at pace
    The choice of partner is critical. You need support from those who understand storytelling, not just an answer to a brief. We specialise in storytelling that supports change. Being too slow to set up the story creation process can lead to missed opportunities and loss of momentum. We advocate for moving at pace and ensuring that the change narrative is established early and communicated effectively.

For decision-makers, responsibility extends beyond simply announcing change. Crafting a narrative that resonates, inspires, and unites must be the goal. By focusing on simplicity, honouring the past, providing a clear mandate, maintaining an optimistic outlook, and addressing the emotional journey, you can lead your teams through change with confidence and compassion. It's not easy, but when you get it right, it helps an organisation move forward.

We're dedicated to helping leaders navigate the complexities of change through effective storytelling. If this is of interest to you, then please get in touch.

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