Project Management Institute

Transformation Stories

Effective Storytelling Can Boost Buy-In for Digital Overhauls



Effective storytelling can boost buy-in for digital overhauls.

By Priya Patra, PMP

Digital transformations are all the rage these days—and also a source of anxiety. CEOs and other business leaders say their top concern for 2019 is risks surrounding digital transformation, according to a Protiviti survey conducted late last year. They have good reason to worry: 43 percent of CIOs surveyed by Harvey Nash/KPMG in 2017 cited resistance to change as the top impediment to digital success. A lack of employee engagement can grind a transformation effort to a halt.

One way to build engagement has always been central to the human experience: storytelling. Effective storytelling catches our attention and helps us comprehend the world around us. It's a powerful tool leaders can leverage to build buy-in among stakeholders—something I've learned while leading digital transformation programs.

Start With Why

I like to start an engagement with a visioning exercise that involves both my team and employees at the customer's organization. People typically don't think of a project or program vision as a story, but it is. It details the desired future state and the value the team will deliver. The exercise's main purpose is to answer: “Why does it matter to you?” The goal is to align people around the vision to drive their engagement. And the story can live on throughout the program: Displaying the vision statement in a hallway and pinning it on the virtual project task board reminds all team members why their work matters.

Dispatches From the Front Lines

The vision is the program's macro story, but useful micro stories can be elicited after engagements start. For example, members of my team may work with the customer's employees at their site, learning about their work experiences and problems. Through this process, we collect real-life “insight stories,” which are then shared across my team. They offer windows into customer pain points (and happy points). This process helps build trust and collaboration with the customer, and it helps my team build empathy.

Draw on the Past

Another storytelling approach looks to the past. During team meetings, leaders can periodically tell stories about past transformation efforts at the organization. The idea is to highlight the fact that change is not only possible—it has happened before, to great effect. These stories, which sometimes can involve people who are part of the program being executed, are another way to drive engagement with the transformative work that lies ahead. PM

img Priya Patra, PMP, is a regular contributor to and a program manager in the IT sector who lives in Mumbai, India.
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