There was a time before the recession when you didn’t have to analyze precisely what parts of your leadership message worked. Whatever you were saying seemed to get the job done; a PPT presentation full of facts, statistics and quotes. Perhaps you have been called to action with a company memo or a training mandate. Change initiatives were launched from above yet when the dust settled after the wagon train pulled out, the flame ebbed until an emissary was sent to puff on the embers. These were rational approaches, however, not very creative.
The disruptive changes of the new economy requires something different. Change can no longer be imposed, it must be facilitated. A strategy has emerged that persuasively delivers the content of dry analysis, linking it together into a compelling illustration of your goals for the future; Storytelling.
Why this tactic? Persuading people to act in unfamiliar and uncomfortable ways as they navigate through the transformation you require has become the centerpiece of business activity today. Jobs, if they weren’t eliminated, are condensed. As a leader, you are faced with the task of making your point succinctly in minutes, not days. The content of your message must be replayed in the recipients and retold to others. Successful change relies on a work culture aligned with your mission, and armed with enough enthusiasm and clarity to influence each other in your absence.
The purpose of any story in business development is to establish trust between you and the listener. Your subordinates want to trust your abilities and plan. They want to make the organization “happen, " as much as you do. But to be reliable enough to garner their support, your method must emerge from a creative process that you can understand intuitively, and foster the respectful collaboration of whole, complex people. Gary Morris, CMO of Marketing Advocate, in Centerville, MA said it best: “Context is the key to adoption. Only authentic trust accrues into a predisposition to try anything, whether it’s a new product or a new idea. "
This new tool will take you beyond your comfort zone, into ambiguity. Allow me to provide some structure to your evolution as a storyteller. Your story must take listeners from where they are now to where they need to be, with enough comfort and focus on your vision of the future.
The Vision Story takes some courage, says Annette Simmons in her book, ‘The Story Factor. ’ Its purpose is to “shrink today’s frustration in light of the promise of tomorrow. " The process for change and perspective should be modeled in the story, as in the bricklayer’s parable: all three construction works are doing the same job, but when asked, one says, ‘I’m laying bricks. ’ The second says, ‘I’m building a wall. ’ And the third says, ‘I’m building a cathedral. " Your focal point has to include affirmation of the process in all three jobs, while guiding their thinking and activities toward the vision of the completed cathedral.
Empowering the Listener
Empowering the listener to visualize the transformation needed in their own work in order to accomplish this vision, and then to act on it, can be achieved by exposing your own motivation toward the change. At what moment did you know things had to change, why? Frame that experience as an obstacle for which you have discovered a solution. What if the solution works? Paint for the listener how things will look once the solution is realized. Make it subjective, from the fountain of passion that brought you to this business in the first place. Lead the listener into the future with a vaguely detailed strategy of how victory over such road blocks will champion any innovations already realized, that progress is in the process of evolution, as a team.
Steve Denning, author of ‘Squirrel Inc. ’ knows from his experience at World Bank that “people are more likely to overcome uncertainty about change if they are shown what to aim for rather than what to avoid. " By making your story overwhelmingly positive, with the problem right up in the foreground, you’re presenting yourself as a protagonist in the narrative of the company as a whole. The biggest mistake storyteller’s make? Spelling out the lesson. The take-away should ONLY BE IMPLIED. Trust the listener to their own deductions.
Some concerns to watch out for when constructing your vision story:
Specific predictions about the future are likely to not come true
Authenticity depends on your knowledge & life experience
Your detractors might take the story out of context
You have enormous potential to change the minds of your followers, that’s the business you are business truly in! The secret is to learn this method as a way to support the rational analysis that is ever present. Lean on your human intuition born millions of years ago in caves, gathered around the camp fire recanting the days adventures. We’re all hunters and gatherers deep down.
Your followers will rise with abundant energy, mirroring your own, prepared to retell your story whenever they encounter an associate who needs a boost. With storytelling in your tool bag, you’ll now be able to harness your own imagination, and tether it to your company’s evolution—onward and upward!
Sherry Minnard Rappaport, MSc is CEO of Pinckney Partners, a consultancy of creativity practioners. She works to discover new applications that deliberately and creatively evolve professionals, their work groups, and their organizations. Sherry is the founder of Boston’s chapter American Creativity Association, http://www.amcreativityassoc.org She can be reached at Sherry@PinckneyPartners.com .