Kathya Acuña

5 minutes

Stories: The Secret to Sustainable Change

“What’s your story?” is my favorite question to ask when I meet someone new. I adopted it after reading the autobiography of Gabriel García Márquez, in which he posits that what matters most in life is not what we do, but the stories we tell about our lives —the flavors experienced, the beauty witnessed, and the music danced.

Source: NY Times, “Magic in Service of Truth”

Storytelling has been a crucial part of humanity as long as we have existed. We’re always telling stories — to ourselves, our families, our friends, our co-workers. And when we’re not telling them, we’re consuming them — on TV, on podcasts, in books.

It’s no wonder that in business, we’ve found ways to lean into storytelling to engage consumers — winning their time, attention, and money with beautifully told stories.

Here at LOCAL, we believe communicating with employees deserves the same thought and care that businesses practice when connecting with their customers. Because employees, too, are an audience worth winning.

This is the core principle that drives our approach, and it’s the reason we believe that successful change is rooted in a well-told story — because stories are the best tools to win the hearts and minds of people.

Why stories?

Stories elicit emotion. They inspire us and can change our beliefs — ultimately making us care about something new. It helps that our brains are wired for stories, and how they engage our senses makes them easier to remember.

Stories guide our actions by reminding us of what to do when something happens. Fables, such as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and proverbs, such as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” are timeless examples of how stories modify our behavior over time.

How is this important to successful change initiatives?

Long-lasting, sustainable change requires that people take ownership of the change that is happening — going beyond adopting the change to becoming ambassadors of it and reinforcing it through their actions.

The most effective way to achieve change ownership is with a well-told story that connects each person to the future the change creates.

Let’s take, for example, the rollout of new technology, such as a CRM, to improve your organization’s sales process. The only way you’ll ensure a successful implementation is if your salespeople champion and encourage the technology across the organization today and into the future.

To achieve this, they will need a story that makes them care about the future the change creates for the company and themselves. Because when people see themselves in the change, they are more likely to own it.

In short: technology alone can’t make a change initiative succeed. Only people can — and people need stories.  

So, what makes a good change story?

The more change stories we craft, the more variation we find. And yet, the following elements remain constant:

  • Involve the people impacted, early and often. Ask them to participate when crafting the change, and build the story around them.
  • Simple stories work better. Keep the story simple to make it easy to understand and remember.
  • Add concrete details. Tangible information about what is changing, how it’s changing, and when it’s changing makes the change easier to follow.
  • Don’t shy away from the tension. Acknowledging that there is a problem or that the current state is less-than-ideal is a critical first step in any change story.

Organizational change has a bad reputation, but it doesn’t have to. Change succeeds when you put the people impacted by the change in the driver’s seat and empower them with a story, about them and their future, that propels them into action.  
There are many books and approaches out there on compelling storytelling. I encourage you to explore different frameworks and see what works best for you. And, if you’re looking for book recommendations, check out Robert McKee’s “Story” and the Heath brothers’ “Made to Stick.”