Tips for Leaders – Driving Change with Stories and Numbers
One of the biggest challenges that leaders face when driving change is getting everyone on board with the new direction. A powerful tool that Change Leaders can use is the combination of story-telling with numbers. When done right it can create the inspiration and momentum that both makes the change initiative happen and makes it stick. Here are some tips that leaders can use to get started:
Tip 1: Brainstorm the story
Chances are if you’re the Change Leader that you already know inherently why you want to drive the change. So the first challenge is “How do I transfer my excitement to other people?”
One of the best tools for getting people on board is the use of stories. Stories have the power to take boring, dry facts and make them personal and memorable.
A good source of relevant stories can be those that describe the frustration that people experience in the current state. These can be situations where things don’t work like they are supposed to, situations involving missed opportunities, or just things that are just plain annoying. A well-crafted story will be engaging and memorable, and inspire the listener to take some action. You’ll want to keep it short, because if things go right you’ll be telling this story over many times.
A major benefit of using a story is that the listener is more likely to remember it, and if the story is engaging then the listener will be inclined to retell it to others. Ideally you will have a story that will connect with the different types of people involved in the change, from the leadership team down to the front line, but if not, you may consider developing different stories for different audiences.
Once you have a few story ideas you can start thinking about the next step … finding the numbers in the story.
Tip 2: Find the numbers in the story
Many of your listeners will be on board after hearing your compelling story, but the more cynical listeners will say “That’s a great story, but it’s just an anecdote.” So the next challenge is finding the numbers both in the story, and the numbers that translate the story to the bigger picture.
When looking for numbers in the story, you may want to think about:
- How bad was the situation? Can parts of it be measured and quantified? For example, if the story is about a situation where a customer was dissatisfied about a long wait, how long was the wait? To put it in context, how much longer was the wait in comparison to the industry standard?
- What efforts went into fixing the bad situation? Did the bad situation result in many different people getting involved? If so, how much time did they spend? For example if the dissatisfied customer spent time with the manager, then with customer service, and then finally escalated the complaint to the leadership team, how many hours of effort went into trying to fix the situation?
When translating the numbers in the story to the big picture, you may want to think about:
- How often do situations like this occur? Is this a one-off, or does this problem repeat itself every day? If the bad situation occurs frequently, what is it costing your organization?
- If you don’t know how often this occurs, how frequently does it need to happen for it to be important? For example, in situations involving a person’s safety, one bad occurrence might be enough for it to be important.
Now that you have the story, and the numbers that back it up, the next step is to connect it back to the change you’re driving.
Tip 3: Make the hero of the story be the change
In the best stories the main character faces a challenge that seems impossible, and then somehow figures out how to overcome that challenge. The hero can be the person who came up with the bright new idea, or even better, can be the improvement idea itself.
As the Change Leader, you will want to find the connection between your change initiative and how the hero of the story overcame their challenge. For example, if your change initiative is about reducing wait times for customers, and if your change initiative involves a new screening process to identify customers with complex requirements, then the hero of the story can be the bright team member who thought of the idea, and the manager who was willing to try it out to see if it would work.
Tip 4: Performance manage with the story
You can take your story-telling even further by linking it to your performance management. It can be as simple as tracking the key numbers in your story on an on-going basis, and setting performance targets around them. Tracking tools can range from a good old fashioned white board to a fully automated electronic dashboard – the main thing is to measure what’s important, and to have the discipline to stick with it.
As you review the performance measures with your team, take every opportunity to refer to the characters of the story, and the situations that they went through. This will remind the people involved in the change why this is important, and will also help get new members of the team on board as they hear the story for the first time.
If you’re a numbers person, you might not have much experience with telling stories. If so, a great resource on storytelling is Peter Guber’s “Tell to Win”. His book describes the important components of any memorable story.
Hopefully these tips will help Change Leaders use the powerful combination of story-telling and numbers to drive change. There are many experts out there that I’m sure will have more to add. Please feel free to weigh in with your point of view.
Jason is the founder and president of AnalysisWorks Inc, a Vancouver, BC based management consultancy that helps organization use evidence-based approaches to “work smarter, not harder”. With a strong bench strength in Operations Research and Data Science, AnalysisWorks is recognized as one of Vancouver’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies. If you have a question or just want to say ...
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