Last week I was invited to help out with one of our Google Apps customers currently going through deployment. They are having some challenges getting all their employees bought into the Google project. It’s a small organisation with a very senior population of employees whose day jobs involve them being incredibly critical and they are used to challenging decisions. Because they hadn’t been fully involved in the decision to move to Google - they were resisting.
The first thing I did was to spend time hearing from a couple of people who had some involvement in the project to date, including Googlers, someone from the partner and also the project lead from the customer. This really helped me to to understand the background in more detail and the specific aspects of the organisational culture which were making this project so challenging. I identified a couple of things that I felt could be tried to re-engage with the employees. Based on my observations the biggest gap appeared to be a lack emotional connection between employees and the project. They didn’t care if it was a success or not. There was also a lack of active and visible executive sponsorship which was making things additionally challenging.
Working with the project lead we decided to craft a story to share with the employees to explain to them in detail why the decision to move to Google had been made, why Google was the right strategic partner for them, how the decision was made, and how they individually would benefit. We told the story in a very personal way. As is often the case with the communications messages given to employees about change, there hadn’t been much thought given to making an emotional connection with employees about the change during any of the initial communications messages.
The story that we crafted was in a very different style than what is typical within their organisation in that it was much more personal and emotional. The story was shared with employees at the start of this week and had an immediate positive reaction. It is early days but the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and has also contributed to the executive sponsor agreeing to step up and take a larger role in the project moving forward.
The above is a very simple example that shows that storytelling can be a much more impactful way of communicating with people than using standard, dry, boring IT communications.
Storytelling can used to drive and inspire change. Stories have the power to make information memorable, repeatable and easy to spread. They can motivate our brains to pay attention. They can help shape new beliefs, change minds and inspire action. Through storytelling we teach children (+ adults!) right from wrong, we share lessons learnt and we create bonds with each other. Storytelling allows people to connect with each other, to learn and to be inspired.
There are many opportunities where we could apply the power of storytelling in the workplace including things such as:
- The elevator pitch for change - e.g. tell a story about how the individuals and organisation will benefit from the change
- Formal and informal communications messages about a change - e.g. have a character (real or invented) telling a story about their personal journey on their countdown to go-live, or on their journey after go-live
- Inspiring people to get involved in a change - tell stories of how others have been involved, what have been the challenges and rewards with participating
- Sharing successes - tell before and after stories, obstacles that have been overcome, how benefits of working in new ways have been uncovered
Stories must have elements of humanity, personality and growth so that people can relate to them in some way. Stories don’t need to be factual to be impactful - they can follow an invented character along a journey, or could be a story of a real employee, or a story of self. What I’ve seen to be very effective is having employees from different teams and divisions of an organisation tell their own personal stories - and sharing them - including all the highs and lows - with the rest of the organisation. Hearing a story from Sarah in the Marketing team about how she was skeptical about a change she was being asked to make, having insight into her values and challenges, then hearing how she overcomes them and the success it has bought her is much more interesting reading than hearing a similar story about an unknown person who works at Google (for example).
Once you understand the key elements to a story - it is easier to pull something interesting and impactful together. There are many suggested theories and possible approaches to doing this. A very basic version below.
Fill in the blanks: Basic storyline (a.k.a the Pixar storyline - check out this short YouTube video ‘6 elevator pitches for the 21st century by Daniel H. Pink - author of ‘To sell is human’)
Once upon a time ________________________________________. Every day __________________________. Then one day ________________________________. Because of that ______________________. Because of that ___________________________. Until finally ______________________________________________________.
Here is a similar, but more visual approach to drafting a story:
In essence to create a story you need to ask yourself a number of questions:
- Who is the protagonist? Is it you or someone else? What is your / their aspiration or goal?
- What was the challenge? How does the challenge get in the way of the protagonist’s aspiration?
- How did the protagonist respond to the challenge? What options or choices were possible?
- Why did the protagonist make the choice they did? What gave them the courage to act?
- What did they overcome? What was the outcome of the choice? Why does it matter? (Perhaps if the protagonist didn’t act as they did, another outcome would occur.)
- What is the moral or leadership lesson in this story?
Top tips for crafting a compelling story:
- Give the main character in the story a ‘spine’ and something they are striving for.
- Characters should grow and learn throughout the story - highlight the conflict or problems
- Make the lead character likable. Sometimes this involves character development - to have the character being likable at the end of the story often means that they aren’t likable at the beginning
- Use what you know, draw from your own experience, express your own values and share what you genuinely care about.
Stories can be told or shared in one sitting - or they could build over a period of weeks or months. Multiple channels can be used to narrate the same storyline. A progression of posters, videos, emails or storytelling in meetings and all-hands by managers or leaders could also be used to add intrigue and to attract the attention of employees.
From a practical perspective, to help you all out we’ve been adding to the content of the transformation gallery which is a repository of basic ‘before-after-impact’ type stories inspired by our customers use of Google Apps that can be personalised and shared with employees to inspire them. Even more powerful is to capture the real stories within your own organisations and then share them across the organisation through posters, emails, videos or G+ posts.
Storytelling comes naturally to some lucky people, but for the rest of us - practice does really help (I also find a glass of wine to be helpful too - although not always appropriate in a work setting!).
I’d love to hear from this audience if any of you have used storytelling as a part of your communications approach to inspire change. What worked well? What didn’t work? Or even share a story you’ve heard here that has had an impact on you personally that others might benefit from.
Looking forward to hearing from you!