It is human nature to love a good story, and it’s no wonder that for centuries storytelling has been a powerful force for human learning, change and advancement. As business strategists, we use stories in a variety of ways in both strategy development and implementation.In strategy development, we often learn from case studies—stories of relevant successes and failures as well as analogs from other industries—to help inform our thinking on problems we are helping our clients solve.
In strategy implementation, we use stories as a catalyst for organizational buy-in and change. The most effective business leaders we work with are expert at communicating a vision with clarity and passion and guiding organizations to implement strategies using stories, ongoing dialogues and narratives. They don’t simply make edicts or repeat the same message over and over. They use their influence and credibility to communicate intentions, future direction and strategies, and invite everyone to participate, interact, and become part of the continuing story.
Good stories are memorable and engaging and completely believable. They connect us and help us understand and relate to others, whether those others are involved in telling the story or simply listening to it. When leaders want to rally teams and employees to implement new initiatives, they need to be authentic and communicate with conviction and energy in order to gain trust and commitment. By carefully crafting and honing messages and stories that they share and adapt over time, leaders become more effective at connecting and teaching, guiding and motivating others through implementation successes, challenges and setbacks.
If you are interested in this topic and related research, below are some of my own favorites, from people I’ve worked with or learned from recently:
Guide Innovation Through Storytelling Rob Salafia and David Sollars aptly call themselves story archeologists. Their process really is about digging underneath the outer layer of the what’s and why’s behind change, to help business leaders uncover their own narratives that will motivate and engage larger audiences. South Street recently worked with Rob and Dave in facilitating a large innovation workshop at a top 5 U.S. health care insurance client.
Strategy Made Simple - The 3 Core Strategy Questions John Hagel insightfully points out in this blog post that “the ultimate form of differentiation is a compelling narrative—a unique and unfolding opportunity for the audience that invites their participation to help shape the outcome.” This and some of his other entries discuss modern strategy and the role of an ongoing narrative that’s focused on external audiences, not the executive suite.
Conversational Intelligence, by Judith E. Glaser. This book is a great place to explore the cultural transformations that companies must go through in order to embrace change. Big hint here: it all leads back to how company leadership approaches change and the narrative around it.
What role do stories play in your willingness to get on board with change? Can you identify one strategic issue where storytelling can support your goal?
Jennifer is a Director at South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.