“Look, Andrew……….this change story stuff is interesting but it just doesn't apply to our roles. We are just not getting this”.
I was recently with a client who was going through change and set a task for the group of 12 leaders during the workshop: to craft their ‘change story’ to use back with their teams. It was meant as a practical tool to build engagement and maintain performance during times of uncertainty and transition. Three participants, after scratching their heads for fifteen minutes, came and told me they didn’t understand it.
I reminded them of the argument I had been building during the day we spent together. Stories are a critical leadership tool because:
Stories and metaphors are natural vehicles for delivering survival information in a changing context
Sharing a story which includes an element of challenge, can generate empathy in the listener and in this way can build engagement
People in your organisation will fill any void of information with their own guesses at what’s going on. This can distract and inhibit performance
The group appeared worn down by a long, drawn out change process in their company. They were waiting to find out the shape of customer driven changes and expected the message to come ‘down from leadership’. They admitted they were at the point where they saw themselves as passive consumers of change.
When prompted to look through the eyes of their team members, the penny dropped. They weren’t consuming change; they were ‘change agents’. They realised that their employees needed them to support and understand the process: to translate the organisational change into something of meaning to employees who are challenged by their own personal transitions. Stories can help this.
They went and created some solid narratives and committed to share them at their team meetings. A useful by-product of their penny-drop moment was that they left the workshop prepared to challenge their own managers to articulate their ‘change story?’ Every leader needs one: what’s yours?