How the Essential Story guides change

How the Essential Story guides change

Change can be scary but I’ve always generally embraced it as (a) inevitable and (b) an opportunity for growth. That may be why my career has evolved to working with companies and organizations that want to pursue change.

Many companies know where they want to get to and what growth or other results they want to achieve. What the change to get there looks like, however, can be hazy. When things are not moving smoothly or quickly enough, or perhaps are not moving at all, it is often because an important early piece is missing. 

It is critical to articulate the “why” of the change, especially in a setting where many people need to be rowing in the same direction for change to occur. Frontloading a change initiative with the Essential Story Process can define that “why” and spur the necessary shared momentum.

Too often, companies find themselves in the position of communicating about a change when it is already happening. “We’re building the rocket ship while it’s flying!” is a common phrase to capture that reality. But change is much more direct, with fewer diversions, resistances, and tangents, if everyone can understand the “why”.

The Essential Story Process and change

Phrase Strategy’s clients engage in our Essential Story Process because they desire some kind of change. They feel stuck. Perhaps they’ve tried to move ahead, have tried different things to make it happen, but efforts stall. In some cases, things are working a bit but the organization knows much more is possible. And sometimes, change did happen, but it turned out to be the wrong change.

“We keep getting in our own way” is a sentiment I hear expressed in many conversations with clients: they know they have potential, know they can achieve big things, yet for some reason get stuck. 

Alignment for effective change

An organization is a collection of people and groups who all need to be moving in the same general direction for anything significant to happen. The Essential Story Process creates the alignment necessary to initiate the magical momentum for change.   

Whatever change is desired, the organization – from leadership down – must agree on the following: Why are we doing this? What problem are we solving? What are we aiming for? Who is affected? How do they perceive the problem and the need? Is everyone who needs to buy in truly bought in? What does success look like?

Let’s take the example of a technology-related change, such as a company-wide new system implementation, a foundational digital transformation, or a migration to cloud-based collaboration. The tendency with technology-related change is to jump in at the product definition phase (it’s the “if we build it, they have to use it” version of the “if we build it, they will come” fallacy). Even in top-down, hierarchical, or regulatory-driven workplaces where change can be mandated, resistance can cause delays, underutilization, errors, and negative return-on-investment.

The Essential Story Process is flexible and can be applied to defining and aligning an organization’s purpose, a brand’s identity, a product/service line’s definition, or to a project like technology change. It aligns the key elements of success: the team seeking the change (leadership or sponsorship), stakeholders in the change (customers, clients, members, constituents, target audiences, end users, partners, etc.), and the environment in which the state of change lives (e.g. competitive solutions, DIY options, “do nothing” options, resistance, etc.) 

Establishing common ground

The resulting Essential Story clarifies and articulates the foundational vision, mission, values, and differentiation that underpin the change. Critically, it builds in the desired outcome at the beginning, and expresses it in terms that everyone can rally around.

Humans are naturally resistant to change. Does this “frontloading” approach solve that problem? No, but it does keep everyone in the same boat, and makes it easier to manage instances when not everyone is rowing in the same direction. An Essential Story makes it easier to course-correct by providing a common platform to get (and keep) everyone onboard with a change-related initiative.