So lockdown is coming to an end. We are heading back to the 'new normal'. Customers are beginning to venture out. Suppliers are getting back online. Your people are wondering what's what. They look to you, the leaders, to give them confidence. To shine a light upon the path ahead.
I'm sure you have your plans. The nuts and bolts. The how and the what. This, I'm sure you have been covering. But have you got your story sorted? Are you all aligned on the narrative. On the big why. And can you communicate it with confidence?
If not, you may find that the way you communicate as a leadership team brings uncertainty. Fear even. An uncomfortableness which saps energy.
Rather, it would be better to ignite your people. Get them back up and running with passion and excitement. Your employee experience will rub off on your customer experience. So you need to get this right.
How could you do this?
My answer: you need to have aligned around a leadership story. You need to take out some time. Focus. And craft a powerful story.
Stories are way we humans see the world. They help us create meaning in our minds. Stories help people understand WHY something is important and WHY they should care.
In essence, they help us to understand change. They communicate this to us in three parts (cheers Aristotle for first pointing this 'dramatic structure' out in the 300s BC!):
Beginning: Before the change - the status quo, the call to adventure and the reason for the change
Middle: During the change - the trials and tensions of the story which make it interesting - the major crisis which needs to be overcome - will the hero succeed?
End: After the change - the new world which the hero returns to having improved things and learnt about themselves along the way
As we read through a story we put ourselves in the shoes of the hero. As they face change, we learn what they learn and when they come through it all we realise we too can overcome the monsters we are dealing with - and although change is ahead, all will be ok. We learn, we are inspired and we understand.
In businesses - and certainly at this time - we deal with change constantly. So as business leaders it behoves us to help communicate these changes to our people in a way which engages and inspires. We will need and want to do this well. We need to get to grips with story.
What does a leadership story look like?
I've worked with hundreds of clients over the years and obviously your situation will be different from the next business.
However, here are some general ideas which paint a picture:
Your leadership story is something you have all co-created
It is something you all believe in and is an authentic expression of the whole team
It helps to explain what the situation is now but where you are all going
It is grounded in the tactical but communicates the strategic
You all own it and can articulate it in your own way using your own life experiences to enhance it
This final point is most important - whether you are doing a one to one or a town hall each individual leader needs to align their communication to the story. If not, this is where the uncertainty and fear will creep in.
Three Tools you can use to create a leadership story
In order to create an effective leadership story, you will need to get together and generate ideas. I'd usually suggest a 1-2 hour swarming session and then a follow up at a later point to review. The following tools are ones I've used with executive teams to great success. They are simple (as all good tools should be) but powerful.
TOOL 1: Change Statement
This is a simple tool but one which is hard to get unity around. In your swarming session work on creating a clear "Change Statement" - what's a one of them? Here's a suggested template:
We want [change description] because [desired benefit]
You might like to ask each leader to come to the workshop with their suggested statement and then work on refining and aligning around one. Maybe via discussion, reworking and voting.
Here's an example:
We want [to make customers feel so safe they stop worrying about covid-19 in our store] because [happy customers mean happy spenders]
Once you have this in place and all the leaders agree that this is the main strategic direction you can then look at the plans and tactical changes you have been making and see how they ladder into it.
TOOL 2: Story structure
I've already mentioned the basic story structure above (Beginning: Before the change / Middle: During the change / End: After the change). You need to have this down as a team. Have a think about how you might define the following:
Beginning: Before the change
What is the status quo right now?
What is the call to adventure and why do we need to change?
Middle: During the change
As we go through the change what difficulties will we face?
How will we overcome them?
Why will it be better when we do overcome them?
End: After the change
What does success look like?
Why will this be better - for us? for our customers?
Thinking about the changes you will need to make in this structure gives you a simple way of being able to articulate the changes ahead in a way which make sense and which will inspire action. You should have a basic alignment on these high level things as a leadership team - but how do you make it personal? How does each leader own it? That's when Tool 3 comes into play...
TOOL 3: Authentic scenes
This is something I'd usually give as homework for each leader after a swarming session. Once you have your change statement and basic story structure in place now you need to make it personal.
This tool comes in two parts:
Resistance points - first you need to empathise with your audience. What will their residence points be? Don't kid yourself - people do not like change. So what will their reasons be not to like the changes you are seeking to make? Get them down.
Authentic scenes - now look over your identified resistance points and ask yourself - in my past, where have I also felt this resistance but managed to work through it and overcome? This is an authentic scene. Close your eyes, remember the details. Remember the emotions, smells and sounds. Remember the feeling of triumph. Bottle that. That is the authentic scene you can now use to help overcome resistance to the changes. Each leaders scenes will be different. This allows them to own the story in their own right and talk passionately about it - whether in a one to one or in a town-hall presentation.
So - there you have it. Some reasons and ideas on why you need a leadership story, what it might look like and some tools to help you create it.
Good luck making the changes you need to get the economy moving again and get your company out of lock-down - and if you need a facilitator to help you through look me up.
Go tell better stories...