Story telling to engage people during digital transformation


Stating that every company will soon be a software company is not a stretch anymore. Digital technologies are disrupting the business environment in significant ways. Accelerating digital transformation must be a key priority for any company hoping to compete in the future. Digital transformation can include every aspect of digital engagement - shift in customer expectations, using data as advantage, innovation in business models, offerings and operating models. Speed and innovation have become the two levers essential for success in digital transformations. But, an even more fundamental aspect digital transformation is causing significant heartburn among business leaders – the people aspects of the transformation.

For any transformation, the critical success factor is people engagement, because ultimately it is the people who have to make changes in behavior and the way they work. This will have to come through several components of the organizational change management initiative including change leadership, organization structure redesign, human resources, and learning.

Change leadership is where storytelling can make a big difference while setting the climate for change, enabling and engaging the organization and finally implementing and sustaining new ways of doing work at the company. Storytelling can be a unifying and powerful engagement tool with which the leadership can emotionally connect with their people and earn commitment towards the changes. So, how do we make an impact using storytelling within change leadership workstream:

  1. People risk and impact management: This is where we baseline the organization by using a survey to capture the change-readiness of the organization. Based on the data gathered and further analysis, a narrative can be crafted around how to mitigate various risks while we take on rest of the change management effort. Depending on the phase of the initiative, the activities in this stream would have to address different audiences, and so the narrative will have to be customized for the right audience to engage them towards the desired outcome.

  2. Leadership alignment and stakeholder management: Bringing the guiding coalition together with sufficient commitment and ownership of the entire initiative is critical. Leaders will have to be deeply accountable for success, able to sponsor change, and their commitment will have to be palpable, visible, and maintained. Storytelling craft can enhance their awareness, getting buy-in and leading them to the desired level of commitment. Critical stakeholders are to be deeply engaged with the execution of the initiative and people. Many of these leaders would be taking on the role of being change agents into their own respective organizations. So, storytelling craft can help these leaders to articulate their specific narratives to connect with their staff as well.

  3. Communication and mobilization: Every organizational change management initiative has to include a rigorous communication and mobilization work-stream. Employees at every level need to understand the change, while being willing and able to manage it. It is necessary to assess where the organization is based on the baseline, develop communication concepts, schedule a delivery plan, and orchestrate the execution of the plan. The communication vehicles used can be many – newsletters, new team member orientations, corporate publications, fire-side chats, town-hall meetings, focus groups, all-hands meetings, etc. These are the occasions where the change story can be most effective in engaging with the people using the right storytelling craft, so that their commitment to the changes can be earned.

  4. Culture shift: Culture is a potential asset of all organizations. It is defined as self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking and believing - that determines “how we do things around here.” It develops whether intended or unintended, actively directed, or left to happenstance. While shifting cultures, the focus is on behaviors rather than mindsets. Essential behaviors will have to be reinforced. Using storytelling craft and role modeling, sufficient engagement with the people can be achieved to earn their commitment through formal and informal means. Mobilizing can be achieved using viral methods (going cross organizations) engaging through both rational and emotional forces to reinforce the new behavior patterns and achieving lasting change.

Given the sophistication of technologies used during digital transformation, the communication can be challenging enough. To add to it, digital transformations are profound in scope, scale, and potential, going beyond engaging the IT organization, into all parts of the business. Offerings to the customer are getting re-imagined, innovative business models are being rolled out, operating models are getting rethought, and customer is central to everything being done in the organization. Disruptive changes are now so common in business that companies can no longer respond with individual one-off transformations. Instead, they need to implement ongoing, interdependent transformations across business units and functions. Business leaders must prepare companies to thrive in a permanent state of change. That is why the potential of using storytelling craft for people engagement is so high. It helps to emotionally connect with people and earn the necessary commitment from them to make the changes stick.

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