Challenge 2. Ignite people with your story

Nut to crack: How to impact hearts and minds with your message

If your case for change is clear, as we discussed in Challenge 1, it is relatively easy to explain why an organisational change is necessary. That, however, doesn’t mean that people are moved by it. The next question is how to struc- ture your message, so it ignites people.

Nutcracker: A personal change story

The success or failure of a change initiative is directly related to the change leaders’ clarity and personal ownership of the story. Leaders need a com- pelling and unique change story to mobilise people. Every change story is different in style, messaging and length – and that’s the way it’s meant to be. There are common elements in every solid change story, however. Answering the questions below will help you build a solid, compelling story.

Support tool I: Personal story of a change leader

1. Where have we come from, and where are we now?

•    Where have we come from, and where are we now?
•    What prompted this intended move? Why is it important and necessary?
•    What are the internal/external causes? What are the frustrations? What does the data say?
•    What will happen if we don’t move?

2. Where are we going?

•    What is our goal? What is our greatest desire? What would make me proud?
•    What would I like to see changed 12 months from now?

3. How do we achieve success?

•    What steps can we take today that will make a big difference?
•    What strengths should we keep (values, relationships, ways of working) and build on?
•    What part of our history should we leave behind to get ahead? And why?
•    What do we need from an achievement point of view? From a leadership perspective? Any changes in our ways of working?

4. What do I expect from you?

•    What would I like to see you and your team do differently? What should we start doing and what should we stop doing?
•    What do I expect from you?

5. What can you expect from me?

•    What can you expect from me? What can you challenge me on?

6. What is the desired result?

•    What will be different when it’s done? What does that mean for people’s daily work? What will not change?
•    How does it relate to other business initiatives?

A change story is not a static thing, but needs constant updating. Its strength lies in the repetition of the main message and the continual clarification of the difference between desire and reality. This is supported by tangible progress being made.

To create maximal impact, ensure your change story is vibrant so people can envisage it. These tips can help solidify your change story.

Support tool II: Tips to help solidify your change story

Share your energy, beliefs and faith.

Use sentences like “I see…”, “I know…” and “I would like..”

Use examples and anecdotes.

Appeal to your audience’s imagination using examples from daily life; refer to a specific complaint from a customer, for instance, or an action by an employee or competitor.

Connect to the bigger picture.

Use the alluring perspective of the bigger picture. Paint a picture of the end state.

Be honest.

If you don’t have the answer, be honest about it. Manage expectations about when solutions will become available.

Make sure to share the uncomfortable truths as well. It’s about being honest, not about keeping up appearances.

Be specific about any potential changes.

Clarify how changes will impact the day-to-day operations of your audience, and be specific for each target audience.

Use simple and relevant language.

Use the language of your audience.

Real-life example: Update your change story to energise your people

Sam, a supply chain director of a packaging materials company, has been on a transfor­ mation journey for a year. He wants to move from a decentralised supply chain organi­ sation to a centralised one. He has noticed that his people’s energy to take steps on the transformation journey has diminished, and that very little progress is being made. It frustrates him that people still don’t seem to understand. He has already shared the transformation message and what’s needed to achieve the end goal so many times, and he is looking for a way to create a breakthrough.

Sam decides to ask a colleague for help. His colleague questions him extensively about why he started the transformation journey in the first place. What about that transfor­mation made him want to stake his reputation on it, and where does he think they are one year into the journey?

Subsequently, Sam’s colleague asks Sam which element of the progress so far he is proudest of, and what frustrates him about the lack of progress in other elements. The colleague also asks Sam what success looks like to him in another 12 months’ time and what he fears if it doesn’t materialise.

While answering these questions, Sam realises he hasn’t communicated this message in a structured way to his people in quite a while, and that there are a considerable number of colleagues who have never even heard the reasoning behind the transformation. Furthermore, he doesn’t usually display any emotion or personal views in his messaging. Sam starts building his storyline with a renewed sense of purpose, and feels that it is a stronger story as a result. Plus, he rediscovers the joy of telling the transformation story, compelling him to use every opportunity, whether informal gatherings, one­on­ones, meetings or town halls, to get his crystallised story across.

Sam trains himself to adhere closely to the core messaging and to share three specific examples that resonate with a particular person or group each time. This leads to new conversations because not everyone shares his views. Engaging in these conversations, he notices a renewed shift, even from people he previously labelled as passive or resis­ tant to the change.

Looking back, Sam realised this conversation with his colleague was a defining moment. The transformation process gained momentum again.

Tip for change leader

The level of comfort you feel in sharing your transformation story with an individual, a group of colleagues or an auditorium filled with employees will depend on your pref­ erences. However unnatural it may feel, this is where your leadership skills become apparent to others. Take the time to prepare appropriately, practice a few times if that helps, but don’t avoid sharing the story verbally.

Tip for change enabler

Do work with the change leaders, and support them by allowing them to practice their storytelling on you before sharing it with the larger group. Advise them to avoid the word “change” and continuously repeat the aspirational goal. This will strengthen the story.

Kernel: Every leader must develop their own story

The change story of change leaders and their ownership of the story is essen- tial for a successful organisational transformation. Create an appealing and energising story, build on organisational strengths, and include less positive messages. Make personalising and spreading the change story the respon- sibility of every leader within the organisation. Challenge 21 will elaborate further on this.

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