Telling the story of your change
I’ve experienced a lot of change. But, haven’t we all? Change is the new normal, it’s no longer a rare thing and dealing with change is now considered an essential skill. Change isn’t going away so we need to start reframing it. I’m passionate about the opportunity organisations have to harness the people and psychological side of change. Doing this well involves getting your story right, providing a vision and ultimately ensuring you invite people on the journey with you.
If you think back to a time when you’ve experienced a change in your organisation, what did it feel like? Messy, confusing, ambiguous, perhaps even exciting? We all deal with change differently and at different times but, communicating well during times of change can help address these feelings of uncertainty, fairness and security. You could argue communications can be the make-or-break factor of any change and I’m not alone in that view. Large, company-wide changes are 12 times more successful when senior leaders communicate continually1. Communication is also the biggest regret after change; with nearly half of business leaders wishing they had spent more time creating and communicating a change story2.
Being clear on your story for change and working with your leaders and employees to communicate that story is so important. If people understand the change and their role within it, they are more likely to care and will more likely do something differently as a result.
But where to start? We see telling the whole story as two sides to one coin. The first part is shaping your story, giving it meaning, making it compelling, addressing challenges. The second half of the coin is sharing the story, equipping leaders and employees with the right skills to tell the story in their own authentic way.
Writing your story
There are 3 steps you should take to write an effective and meaningful story:
- Be clear on the context of change
Spend time understanding what has gone on before. What messages have already been shared, what changes have people already been through, where is the organisation in terms of developing a clear strategy for the change? Focus on desk research, or one-to-one interviews or focus groups. Work with your leadership team as well as influencers throughout your business. Doing this well will address any potential ‘change baggage’ and not contradict any previous messaging.
- Create a compelling vision
Work with your leadership and change team to really understand your change. Create a clear plan on a page which sets out the what, why, when, where, who and how. Be clear on the vision and how this fits into the broader context of your organisation, and importantly, identify and address as many unanswered questions before you start to communicate where possible and appropriate to do so. In times of change you might not have all the answers but spend some time thinking through top of mind questions and where possible address them upfront. Make the vision compelling and critically, make it realistic. Spend time understanding how people really feel. Sometimes in times of change you can’t share or communicate the details of the change up front due to confidentiality. If this is the case you do need to decide what you can share and when and be clear on that message.
- Listen to feedback
Once you have defined the ‘bones’ of your story ensure you must invite others to feedback on it and add colour and context by hearing what the defined story means for them in their area of the business. Identify key influencers in your business so that you have a good cross section of people and views. Repeat the words and language you hear to help build out the story. Done well, it feels like people are all in it together with leaders setting the example. There is an opportunity to co-create your story from top down and bottom up. It’s worth remembering, again, it depends on the nature of the change, whilst this is best practice, due to the nature of the change, step three just isn’t possible. In that case the first people hear on the change will be when it’s communicated. When this happens, there are other ways to support people during their change after it’s been communicated, and this should also be factored in.
Sharing your story
It’s easy for people to sit back when the story is written but sharing the story is just as important. What’s the point in having a compelling story if no one knows about it, or worse, it isn’t authentic, lived or felt? To really spread your story effectively you need to think through four things:
1. Build a communication and engagement plan, don’t just leave it to chance. Make it purposeful and strategic. This will focus on the how and when of your communications. This may involve developing tactical materials to support your story such as infographics or videos. Maximise the communication channels you already have in place to tell your story as well as thinking of new ones.
2. Get people to think about how the story relates to them. Find ambassadors to not only tell the story but feedback what they are hearing too. Work with divisional leaders to build out what the story means for them and their teams. Set up ‘change cafes’ where people can talk to each other about the change and understand what it might mean for them.
3. Upskill your leaders and ambassadors in the art of storytelling, whilst some people are natural storytellers, it is a developable skill. Be clear on where they tell the story, both formally and informally to help ensure the messages are consistent. Done well, storytelling is a powerful leadership communication tool.
4. Evaluate the change roll out, check if what you had intended with the story has been felt, this is critical and allows you to address challenges as part of your strategic plan.