Using Storytelling in Change Management

**UPDATE** – I left out the inspiration for the Storytelling canvas from the original post. Thanks to Kevin Bishop and Camilla Norgaard (more details below!)

We’re 4 days into the New Year which means 92% of the world population has already given up on their New Year’s resolutions, and there are already 249,000,000 results in Google for ‘2016 Management Trends’.

The New Year brings with it a feeling of re-birth, and the opportunity to change something, hopefully for the better. I, and I’m sure many of you, gave up on New Years resolutions many years ago. For me, the New Year is nothing more than a signal that it’s going to get really cold and I’m going to be spending the next couple of months shovelling snow. By the way, it feels like -25 C with the windchill this morning according to my weather app.

I’ve given up on resolutions because when the need is strong enough, I’ll change whatever it is that needs changing. Not in a counter-culture, “I’m better than people who wait for New Years to change” type of way, but more in a “I feel like something needs to change NOW” type of way.

2015 saw many people attacking the ridiculous notion that 70% of changes fail, and the incorporation of Agile practices into change management but both of those points are still in the innovator realm.

Linked In Article by Ron Leeman

70% of changes fail? Bollocks! By Jen Frahm

Abolish the 70% stat by Heather Stagl

Of course, 2015 also brought the release of ACMP’s well-intentioned, yet ridiculous Standard. Given conversations around how to advance change management within this circle started in 2009, The Standard is written based on thinking that’s already more than a decade old.

A lot of people are going to make a lot of money with certifications based on The Standard and it’ll make quite a few people feel good, but it’s going to set our profession back a decade. Don’t believe me? Go read it for yourself. There are some good points in it, but it’s the usual Assess – > Create Strategy -> Plan – > Execute -> Close out nonsense that is irrelevant today.

For 2016, I imagine the split between those who value the feeling of certainty through standards and certifications, and those who value action and iterative change, will increase. I think you know which camp I’m in.

So what’s in store for change management in 2016?

  1. Integration of Agile into CM Programs: While change projects and programs need to die a fast-painless death, it won’t happen this year. That said, more change practitioners with “traditional backgrounds” will start using daily standup meetings, and frequent retrospectives to move changes forward. Scott Span wrote an interesting article about how Agile can help your change program here. I don’t agree with the notion of using ‘sprints’ to manage changes, because I’ve tried it, and I’ve seen other change teams try it and it just doesn’t work.
  2. Co-Creation of change: Will Kelly wrote and article that describes 7 things change management can learn from tech.  My favourite point is #6: Put your audience before your change management team. Change people love inflicting their tools and frameworks on people for no reason other than it makes sense to them. Co-creation and conversation will begin to displace the reliance on standardized practices with change management innovators and early adopters. The early majority will stick with their ‘tried and true’ tools, all the while continuing to perpetuate the notion that 70% of changes fail, but some of them will step into the 21st century at some point.
  3. Story Telling: While traditionalists focus on overcoming resistance and create more process frameworks, change artists will use more storytelling in organizations to create alignment for transformational change. Below is a guide to show you how you can use storytelling in change management.

The Storytelling canvas is an idea by Kevin Bishop who was an attendee at a Lean Change Agent workshop in Melbourne last year.Kevin talked about a 3 step format for having people tell their story (In the past…then this happened…so we want to) and I was supposed to nag him to write a post and forgot! The idea was expanded on during Lego Serious Play in San Diego where I talked about integrating aspects of The Hero’s Journey with Camilla Norgaard, Lego Serious Play and storytelling which is where the other aspects of the Storytelling canvas came from.

Remember, the conversation matters…the canvas doesn’t!

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