Why storytelling is critical for organisational change

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 18:30

By Gabrielle Dolan

Organisational change is happening at such a rapid and constant rate, that it is now considered business as usual.

In the past, organisational change used to be managed via a very thorough process. This normally consisted of senior leadership off sites, months of planning and strategy sessions. This was then usually followed by collaboration sessions to increase employee engagement accompanied by the development of a detailed stakeholder management and communication plan where scripted messages would be cascaded down the organisation accompanied by a beautifully designed PowerPoint presentation.

Some would argue that this process achieved limited success and more significantly that it is no longer effective. The rate of change in today’s world means that the PowerPoint deck will be out of date before it has even been spell checked.

The age of disruption is forcing organisations to communicate change in a different way. This process must be more agile, authentic and cut through all the ‘noise’ and information overload that employees deal with every day. Accordingly, storytelling has emerged as a critical way to communicate organisational change in a more agile and authentic way.

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.

Hisham El-Ansary is Managing Director at Bupa Health Services and a strong believer in the power of storytelling. He believes 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.”

So why is storytelling 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.

Over the last decade I have worked extensively with Corporate Australia to help skill their leaders in storytelling that drives organisational change. This experience has highlighted to me the 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.”

Gabrielle Dolan is the best selling author of Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results. Her latest book Storytelling for Job Interviews is available now via online stores. Gabrielle is considered a global expert in Business Storytelling, with popular online training programs for storytelling in business and storytelling for job interviews. To find out more visit www.gabrielledolan.com

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