CEOs and senior executives of ten ask, ‘How can we create employee buy-in?’ What they are really asking is how do we get employees to engage with a new company strategy or change initiative.
As a result, companies seek my help to train their leaders on storytelling. They have come to the realisation that they can have the best strategy in the world but unless their employees connected with it, the strategy will not succeed, the values will not be lived, and the change initiative will fail.
Storytelling helps create employee buy-in because personal stories resonate with people more effectively than logic. People have an emotional connection when they hear a story, yet many of our company communications are based on logic. While logic is needed to help create employee buy-in, it will not achieve this on its own.
A great example comes from Ann Coureau Lemonnier, leader of data analytics and robotics at the EY Brisbane office. She was asked to make a presentation on her area of expertise to the new managers. Ann said that one of the issues she encounters when presenting on data analytics is that people are discouraged before they even have a go. “They feel it’s going to be too hard and so they don’t even try”.
When employees are reluctant to try something new, essentially it means they are doubtful of the benefits. Consequently, the main goal for Ann’s presentation was to motivate them to try. This is the story she prepared, practised and presented.
An escalator in India
“When I was in my early twenties, I was on an exchange program in a business school in India for a few months. It was in one of the poorest provinces of India. While I was there, a brand-new shopping mall opened. It was very modern compared with everything else around, and included escalators.
I wandered into the mall one day and saw a group of Indian women gathered at the bottom of the escalator. They seemed really excited. I quickly understood that they had never been on an escalator before. They were both very excited to see an escalator but also super nervous about actually using it. And they were just not getting on it. So I decided to take one of the women by the hand and bring her up the escalator with me.
I could feel how excited she was. When she got to the top, she looked so happy and proud to have done it, and I was really happy for her. I’m sharing this with you because I think data analytics is our escalator today. We are both excited with all these new tools and also a bit nervous and scared. We’re simply not too sure about how to use them or what to do. Imagine if we could step on that escalator, how proud we would feel once we got to the top.”
Ann reflected on her presentation, saying, “While I was telling the story, I could sense that everyone was really captivated.” She also mentioned that the qualitative poll data at the end indicated that 95% would try the new technology, which was higher than expected.
I love the simplicity of Ann’s story and the clarity with which she demonstrated her message. It wasn’t about how great the new technology was, which is often the focus for change communications; it was a story aimed at getting employee buy-in or, in other words, to get people to try the technology.
Think about how you can use a story to get buy-in from your employees when you are next communicating your strategy, values or change program.