What do Stories Teach us about Change Management?

Posted by: in Communication, Communication Strategy, Culture, Thinking Creatively on October 1, 2014

One of the fundamental things about any story is change. Change that is irreversible. How do stories help drive our change management efforts to conclusion? How can these insights help inform our strategies?

1. The Beginning: Understand the context of change

The beginning context in any story is there to help the audience feel some empathy for the protagonist and gives a baseline of what the world looks like today. This empathy and context is important because the audience needs to make an emotional connection as well as understand how everything changes throughout the story. For an organization, this is where you evaluate the current state of your organization. This is the starting point of a change initiative and any story. By truly understanding the status quo within the organization and how that fits within the current external environment, you will be able to assess what it takes to move your stakeholders through the different stages of change to a compelling future.

  • What is the current state of the organization? What are its values?
  • What does the environment look like today? How will it evolve?
  • Who are your stakeholders?
  • Who are your informal drivers and barriers to change?
  • How does your vision jive with their worldview today?


2. Inciting Incident: Drive the organization to a tipping point

The inciting incident is an event that tips the story forward, and it brings up the inevitable final climax and resolution. In a story, it can be the scene where a protagonist learns the evil deeds of the antagonist, which basically places the showdown scene in the audiences mind as an inevitable scene. In a change initiative, this is the burning platform where your stakeholders recognize the point of no return. It can be a reveal of just how terrible your customers experience your service today. It can be a confrontation of where the future is going and how you are on a path to self-destruction. Whatever it is, you need a clear and compelling inciting incident to tip your stakeholders over and recognize that from here on out, the current state is no longer available for acceptance.

  • What do you need to show your stakeholders in order to tip them to action?
  • What story will drive a compelling burning platform?
  • What will generate that emotion where the status quo has indeed vanished?


3. Conflict, Struggle and Growth: Anticipate and plan for must win battles

After the organization has accepted the inciting incident as a call for change, the next stage is really where the bulk of the work exists. This is the stage where your organization will face an onslaught of conflict and struggle. What will help fuel this to completion is growth. Just like your stakeholders, the protagonist in a story will fight bigger and bigger issues, with some successes and some failures. What is certain is that in order for completion of the story, the protagonist needs to grow. Skills improve, processes are tweaked. Inner demons are banished, new values are introduced into the culture. Your stakeholders, your organization will need to grow. Nothing will be fully figured out, but the fuel to continue is the capacity to grow and the ability to recognize that growth. They must see the results of this growth. On screen, the protagonist will clearly demonstrate and show this transformation, but in an organization, unless it’s shown to all stakeholders, it will largely be invisible.

  • What types of conflict and struggle do you anticipate?
  • How do you share these anticipated challenges up front?
  • Who is taking ownership to fight these challenges?
  • What are the tangible and intangible ways in which your organization will grow?
  • What kinds of measurement tools have you set up to identify conflict and also show growth?


4. Climax and Resolution: Establish THE scene for success

The inciting incident informs an inevitable climax scene. This is where the protagonist faces off with the antagonist, this is where the customer has a new and improved customer experience. All change initiatives need to have a climax and resolution. The organization needs to know that it has set out to fight the beast and has ultimately succeeded. Without this cathartic moment there is a risk that your stakeholders will feel that they are in limbo, struggling through for nothing. And in this state, they will probably have no appetite to go through another change initiative again, which you and I know is unavoidable in any organization.

  • What kind of climax or resolution has to happen from the inciting incident?
  • How will you show the organization that the beast has fallen?
  • How do you make the climax as concrete as possible?
  • How will you celebrate?


5. New World Order: Develop a compelling vision that leaves its breadcrumbs throughout the journey

The new world order in a story is a result of driving change through the character and plot. Both external and internal changes have resulted in a new way of living. In a change initiative, a new order means new processes, new attitudes, new values and hopefully resulting in a new position and improved profits. This is where a writer or a change strategist can spin their magic. Unlike developments in real life, you cannot go back in history and change certain things to make it more compelling. However, in a story or in a change strategy, you can go back and tweak all the elements to make sure the resulting new order aligns with all aspects of the story or in this case the change strategy before implementation.

  • What is the new order or vision of your change?
  • How can you impart the vision of this new order in every step of the journey?
  • What assets, capabilities and systems do you need to put in place as part of your strategy to get to the new order?
  • What is the gap between the beginning and this new order?


The structure of story provides an interesting lens to view the change process. Unorthodox as it seems, it brings forward the right kinds of questions that will form the core of your change initiative.

By: Howie Chan

Howie is an Account Director at WCG, a W2O Group company. He specializes in marketing strategy, believes in emotional customer experiences and cannot walk away from awesome food.

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