Using Stories to Activate
Before people can start carrying out your strategy, it helps if they understand what they’re actually being asked to do, where you’re taking them, and how you’ll get there. It’s not as simple as just telling people what you want them to do, however. Facts can teach, but stories make the lesson stick.
Stories help you and your audience get on the same page. This is nothing new, but it gets forgotten in our rush to deliver information in the same old ways. We gather our stats, throw some bullet points on a slide, then walk away hoping everyone understands (and will run with it).
I’m just going to say it: those bullet points and fancy multicolored charts aren’t enough. Tell people what you want them to do and they might remember it; illustrate where you’re headed with a story and they definitely will. Here are a few times I’ve seen that in action:
Show the action
A client wanted to show employees how to live the company’s values and guiding principles as they delivered healthcare. We could have created a handout that listed all the ways employees could do that, but we knew stories would be far more powerful.
So, with the client’s help, we discovered anecdotes of people across their organization who delivered great care—and not just physicians, but care coordinators, IT specialists, and pharmacy program managers, too—while embodying the company’s values and principles.
The stories illustrated how even employees who didn’t have direct contact with customers were making simple choices that touched lives in a big way. Instead of just telling employees the “what” (listen more, take initiative, deliver above and beyond customer service) the stories showed them the “how”—what it can look like for them.
Make it personal
Another client wanted to revamp a three-day instructor-led training for newly promoted upper-level managers. We took a training that was previously pretty lecture-heavy and wove in more opportunities for stories, because we knew—not to sound like a broken record here—people absorb more information when it’s delivered in a story instead of just some slides on a screen. We also encouraged facilitators to tell personal stories related to the concepts, especially if it was a tale of what not to do.
Attendees responded with glowing feedback. Many talked about how they felt inspired to lead differently; some remarked that the facilitator’s vulnerability in sharing personal stories showed them they could do the same with their teams.
“There were so many useful tips and principles that were brought to life through stories,” one person said. “It was so helpful seeing storytelling taught as a leadership tool,” said another.
Keep it fun
It’s not just real stories that help you activate your strategy—metaphors, similes, and analogies work, too.
Comparing something new or complex to something people are familiar with always makes things a little clearer. For example, “Changing roles in this division is a lot like moving to a new house—life will be better once everything’s unpacked, but it takes some time to get settled in.”
If metaphors aren’t your thing, there’s always the tried-and-true parable—think Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare—to get a concept across.
Activate with stories
So next time you’re telling people something new, walking through a new initiative, or leading others on a journey, use a story. Draw on your own experience, use a metaphor, or even use a fairy tale to make the lesson stick. It’s a lot more effective—and fun—than just using those bullet points.