Leading Change Through Storytelling: Insights from an Executive Coach
As the famous saying goes, “Change is the only constant.” Every organization goes through multiple changes over the years, be it introducing a new product, entering a new market, or undergoing a merger or acquisition. The success of any change initiative is highly dependent on how well it is communicated to the employees and stakeholders.
Storytelling is an effective way to engage people and communicate complex ideas in a simple and compelling way. In this blog, we will discuss the most effective storytelling method to use during a change initiative, as recommended by an executive coach.
“The stories we tell literally make the world.
If you want to change the world, you need to change your story.”
– Michael Margolis
First, understand the role of storytelling in change management
Before we dive into the storytelling method, let’s first understand the role of storytelling in change management. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can help you create a compelling vision for change, inspire people to take action and build a shared understanding of the change initiative.
It helps people to connect with the change on an emotional level, making it more meaningful and relevant to them. Stories also help to create a sense of urgency and momentum, which is critical during any change initiative.
Now, let’s talk about the most effective storytelling method to use during a change initiative. According to an executive coach, the best method is to use the “Hero’s Journey” framework.
The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling framework
The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling framework developed by Joseph Campbell, a mythologist, and writer.
It is based on the idea that all great stories follow a similar structure, which can be broken down into three acts.
Departure In the first act, the hero leaves his or her ordinary world and sets out on a journey. The hero encounters challenges and obstacles along the way, which sets the stage for the rest of the story. During a change initiative, this act can be used to establish the need for change and highlight the challenges the organization is facing.
The hero in this case is the organization itself, and the challenges it faces can be anything from increased competition to changes in customer preferences.
Initiation In the second act, the hero faces a series of trials and tribulations, which tests their strength and resolve. They receive help and guidance from mentors and allies, which helps them to overcome these challenges. During a change initiative, this act can be used to showcase the steps the organization is taking to overcome the challenges it faces.
This can include highlighting the new strategies and initiatives being put in place, as well as the support and guidance being provided to employees.
Return In the third and final act, the hero returns to their ordinary world, having undergone a transformation. They have overcome the challenges they faced, and as a result, the world is a better place. During a change initiative, this act can be used to showcase the positive outcomes of the change. This can include improved customer satisfaction, increased sales, and higher employee engagement.
“Stories are a communal currency of humanity.”
– Tahir Shah
Applying the Hero’s Journey framework
Now that we have an understanding of the Hero’s Journey framework let’s discuss how it can be applied to a change initiative. Let’s take the example of a company that is undergoing a digital transformation.
Departure The company has been in business for many years, and it has built a loyal customer base. However, with the advent of new technologies, the competition has become more intense, and the company is struggling to keep up. The first act of the Hero’s Journey can be used to highlight the challenges the company is facing and the need for change.
The story can focus on the competitive landscape and the changes in customer behavior, which have made it necessary for the company to adopt new technologies.
Initiation The second act of the Hero’s Journey can be used to showcase the steps the company is taking to overcome the challenges it faces. The story can focus on the new technologies being implemented, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the support and guidance provided to employees to help them adapt to the changes.
The story can also highlight the new strategies and initiatives being put in place to improve the customer experience and drive growth.
This act can also introduce the mentors and allies who are supporting the organization, such as consultants or partners who are helping with the digital transformation.
Return The third act of the Hero’s Journey can be used to showcase the positive outcomes of the change. The story can focus on the improved customer experience, increased sales, and higher employee engagement that resulted from the digital transformation. The story can also highlight the organization’s newfound ability to compete in the market and provide better value to its customers.
This act can also show how the organization has transformed and adapted to the changing landscape, positioning it for long-term success.
Using the Hero’s Journey framework in this way can help create a powerful and engaging story that connects with people on an emotional level. It provides a clear narrative structure that helps people understand the change initiative and its impact. The framework also provides a sense of progression and momentum, which is essential during a change initiative.
“The only constant is change.”
Best practices to keep in mind when using storytelling
In addition to using the Hero’s Journey framework, there are some other best practices to keep in mind when using storytelling during a change initiative. These include:
Use a variety of mediums:
Stories can be told through a variety of mediums, including video, podcasts, or written narratives. Using different mediums can help reach different audiences and make the story more engaging.
Use data and metrics:
While storytelling is a powerful tool, it is important to back up the story with data and metrics. Using data can help reinforce the need for change and showcase positive outcomes.
Keep the story authentic:
Stories need to be authentic to be effective. Avoid using hyperbole or making promises that cannot be kept. Instead, focus on the real challenges and the real steps being taken to address them.
Employees are key stakeholders in any change initiative, and involving them in the storytelling process can help create buy-in and support. Encourage employees to share their own stories and experiences related to the change initiative.
Case Study: The Story of GE’s Digital Transformation
In 2011, General Electric (GE) embarked on a digital transformation initiative aimed at leveraging data and analytics to improve its products and services. The initiative, called “GE Digital,” was a key part of the company’s growth strategy and involved significant changes to its operations and culture.
To help communicate the initiative to its employees and other stakeholders, GE used storytelling as a key tool. The company’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, became the protagonist in a story that followed the Hero’s Journey framework.
Departure The story began with Immelt acknowledging that the world was changing and that GE needed to change with it. He recognized the potential of data and analytics to transform the company’s operations and create new business opportunities. This act included Immelt outlining the challenges facing the company and the need for a new approach.
Initiation The second act focused on the steps GE was taking to transform itself. The story highlighted the investments the company was making in data and analytics, as well as the new partnerships it was forging with technology companies. It also introduced the new technologies and tools that were being developed to improve GE’s products and services. This act showed the progress the company was making and the potential for success.
Return The final act of the story showcased the positive outcomes of the digital transformation initiative. The story highlighted the improvements to GE’s products and services, as well as the positive impact on the company’s bottom line. It also showed how the company was adapting to the changing market and positioning itself for long-term success.
To complement this story, GE used a variety of mediums to communicate the change initiative, including videos, podcasts, and written narratives. The company also used data and metrics to back up the story and demonstrate the impact of the initiative.
As a result of this storytelling approach, GE was able to create a shared understanding of the digital transformation initiative and build support for its success. By involving employees in the storytelling process and highlighting the positive outcomes, GE was able to create a sense of momentum and ownership, ensuring the initiative was successful and sustainable over the long term.
The case study of GE’s digital transformation demonstrates the effectiveness of storytelling during a change initiative. By using the Hero’s Journey framework and a variety of mediums, GE was able to create a compelling narrative that engaged and inspired its stakeholders.
The use of data and metrics and the involvement of employees also helped create buy-in and support for the initiative, ensuring its success over the long term.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it,
and join the dance.”
– Alan Watts
In conclusion, storytelling is a powerful tool for communicating during a change initiative. The Hero’s Journey framework is an effective way to structure the story and create a compelling narrative that engages and inspires people. By using a variety of mediums, data, and metrics, and keeping the story authentic, organizations can create a shared understanding of the change initiative and build support for its success.
By involving employees in the storytelling process, organizations can create a sense of ownership and momentum, ensuring the change initiative is successful and sustainable over the long term.
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