While this book up to now has focused on telling stories to help you enter organizations, this chapter discusses telling stories in the workplace. As we’ve seen in the foregoing chapters, telling stories about your ability to adapt to change is important to your career advancement, but being able to tell stories that propel and communicate change in the workplace is even more powerful. This kind of storytelling can also become part of a wonderfully self-perpetuating cycle: You tell stories that drive change. When you seek a promotion or your next job, you are then able to tell stories about how you used storytelling to communicate or propel change. You can also use stories to help you make sense of change and cope with its stress.
Stories to Lead and Communicate Organizational Change
Growing numbers of scholar-practitioners have published books in recent years advocating storytelling for various uses within organizations “ including to catalyze change. Among these are Stephen Denning with his 2001 book The Springboard, his 2005 Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, and his 2004 Squirrel, Inc., which both touts storytelling as a technique for promoting organizational change and is told in story form. Among eight types of organizational storytelling that Denning describes are “a story to ignite action” and “a story to lead people into the future,” including guidelines for crafting a “springboard story” designed to spark organizational change. In her 2006 book, Wake Me When the Data Is Over, Lori Silverman presents chapters from a broad cross-section of organizational-storytelling experts on using story in day-to-day organizational operations (in such areas as financial management, leadership, and project management), as well as strategically and to propel organizational transformation.
Stories, Denning asserts, are far more effective in driving change than the “mechanistic analysis” embodied by charts, graphs, and bullet points. In The Springboard, Denning describes his experiences in using stories to help people and organizations to effect change:
I found that a certain sort of story enables change by providing direct access to the living part of the organization. It communicates complicated change ideas while generating momentum toward rapid implementation. It helps an organization reinvent itself. Storytelling gets inside the minds of the individuals who collectively make up the organization and affects how they think, worry, wonder, agonize, and dream about themselves and in the process create “ and re-create “ their organization. Storytelling enables the individuals in an organization to see themselves and the organization in a different light and accordingly take decisions and change their behavior in accordance with these new perceptions, insights, and identities.