Digital transformation storytelling tips: How to explain your work

You need to tell a good story to get people on board for the change that comes with digital transformation work – and to win respect for your team’s efforts. Consider these proven tips
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Storytelling tips for leaders

Everyone loves a good story, and we all have our favorites. Whether it’s a book from your childhood - like “The Phantom Tollbooth” for me - the latest action movie you saw, or the story a friend told you last week, stories have the ability to engage us in a way regular words on a page or typical presentations don’t. And there is a science behind it.

Research shows that when someone listens to a story, not only does the portion of their brain that processes language activate, but their brain acts as if they are actually experiencing the things in the story. This powerful connection through storytelling makes whatever is being discussed much more impactful and memorable.

Digital transformation storytelling helps people process change

So what does this have to do with digital transformation? Digital transformation is defined as “…the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers.” But it’s much more than just putting in place the latest and greatest technology solution.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: What is digital transformation? A cheat sheet. ]

At its heart, digital transformation is about change - changes in process, changes in roles, changes in how we work, changes in how we engage with our customers - facilitated by technology. Successful change is about winning the hearts and minds of the people involved…and that’s where storytelling comes in! Here’s how Nick Morgan, author of “Power Cues,” explains it, via Inc.:

“In our information-saturated age, business leaders won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories. Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all. Stories create ‘sticky’ memories by attaching emotions to things that happen. That means leaders who can create and share good stories have a powerful advantage over others.”

Change models all start with getting people on board with the change.

Change models, whether Kotter’s 8-step Change Model or the ADKAR Change Model, all start with getting people on board with the change. Through storytelling, you can develop a compelling vision of where you are and where you want to go, bringing people along with you on the journey in a way pure data and bullet points would never be able to.

But good storytelling is more than just a happy ending: It requires planning and practice!

4 types of digital transformation stories to develop

In her book, “Stories for Work,” Gabrielle Dolan identifies 4 types of stories: Triumph, Tragedy, Tension, and Transition. Each of these story types has a use in the workplace, which used properly can exponentially increase the effectiveness of your engagement with your customers or stakeholders, and in turn, increase the likelihood of success of your digital transformation efforts.

Create a story inventory, categorized in four buckets, that you can use as needed.

Dolan suggests creating a story inventory, categorized in these four buckets, so they are at your fingertips to use as needed. As you plan your next digital transformation, think about where and how you can weave stories in as you plan to present your ideas, share information, and look for buy-in.

Using stories doesn’t have to be complicated; your stories don’t need to be epics like “Moby Dick.” You might tell a story about your first day at a new job, for example, and describe how excited you were but at the same time petrified that you were going to mess something up, and then relate this to how your team may be feeling about taking on new roles to support your digital transformation initiative.

Or you might tell a story about how your local Target store changed their layout so you couldn’t find your favorite shampoo brand, and the dog food, which used to be right next to the baby food aisle, was now way over on the other side of the store, and what was supposed to be a 15-minute shopping trip turned into a 45-minute journey of frustration…and relate this to the frustration you anticipate your customers might have with changes you are planning for your website. People will be able to “feel” and connect with the “45-minute journey of frustration” and remember this as they are planning the implementation of your new website.

So, take a chance! As you plan your next digital transformation initiative, find a way to incorporate good stories. You’ll find people are able to connect with you and your message more easily - and get on board faster with the change ahead!

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Stephanie Welsh has been at Red Hat for over five years and is the Senior Director for IT Strategy and Enablement.  In this role, Stephanie leads a team focused on enabling the business of IT to accelerate Red Hat’s overall strategy.  Her team includes portfolio management, financial management, enterprise service management, enterprise digital adoption, change management, process imp