Why should I care about the Narrative Canvas?
In the middle months of this past year, Julia found out about the big change of strategy coming from global offices.
“I’ve been trying for weeks to explain the new strategy to my sales team, and I can only see confusion in their faces and feel the resistance they are putting. You know what? not even my own core team has been able to agree on what this new strategy means.”
I met Julia that same day, in a small conference room in their corporate offices. In the meeting were also two members of her team that, indeed, showed me with their body language- and their frustrated sighs- that there was no alignment between the three of them regarding what the new global strategy meant… and that they were running out of time.
In this article I want to tell you about the Narrative Canvas, a resource that will help you diminish that kind of anxiety, and at the same time, reinforce your role as a visionary leader that wants to transcend, a leader responsible of creating unimaginable futures. As Nancy Duarte states in her book, Illuminate:
“The dream of a new future becomes an inner fire, and I carry that idea forward like a torch, lighting the way for others to prosper.”
You have the power of inspiring others, you just have to remember it
A few years back, we printed our business cards for Astrolab’s team members that had the following inscription: “you can inspire/change/transform others”. The idea was to socialize our belief that every person has the ability to achieve precisely that.
And you already know it- and that’s more, you have done it already!– it is just that the noise, the sense of urgency, and the complexity surrounding you has made you forget.
to inspire others to change, you need to explain why they should. In Playing to Win, Lafley and Martin state that the best way to communicate change is to do it in a simple, clear and attractive manner: “a giant PowerPoint presentation will not move an organization”.
In 2013, a manager that works in CEMEX HQ came looking for us with a question:
-”How can I communicate a change in strategy to my global HR leaders?”
This triggered a search to find a tool that would facilitate this process of communicating new topics, changes, strategies and relevant initiatives.
Soon we found the concept of Narrative, or strategic story, in texts by Harvard Business Review, and with this words from Linkedin’s CEO:
“-It is important that people recognize the value of a narrative. Once the narrative of an organization is manifested and established, everything is much clearer (…)”.
What is a Narrative? What does it look like?
In 2016 I wrote an article with some suggestions about how to build a Narrative for change management. Today, three years and a half later, I feel a little more prepared to do these other suggestions on the topic.
First I want to introduce the Narrative Canvas we use in Astrolab, a merge of Anecdote’s clarity stories, some insights from Jason Little’s blog posts, book excerpts from Illuminate by Duarte Inc, and some other references from practical EVERY book where you can learn about using storytelling as a change management tool…all this sifted with the learning we have obtained in the more than twenty narrative projects in which Astrolab has participated during the last five years.
So, I leave you the most updated version of the narrative canvas:
The idea is to build the message of change using this canvas, and to build it among as many influential people as possible, both by power and authority.
How to build it and how to use it?
1. Co-created and told by many
Organizational changes are often designed by external consultants, or by the management team. The problem with this is that the operational team is left out, which almost always has information that does not go all the way up to management.
Another problem is that by leaving the operational team – and the rest of the company in general – out, it will feel that the change was imposed, and naturally people will begin to resist the change.
The solution? Engage as many people as possible to fill the narrative canvas. A few days ago, Jason Little posted this:
-The more you interact directly with people affected by change in a significant way, the more likely you are to make the change effort work.
A few years ago we worked with one of the FEMSA companies to accelerate the adoption of a recruiting platform. The project was very successful because we empowered people from the operation to tell the narrative to the rest of the audience.
2. Go beyond words
Filling the narrative canvas – a text, in the end – helps, but that text is dead if a large group of people don’t start communicating it orally, and including personal anecdotes. An excellent time to communicate these changes is at townhall-style meetings that are beginning to catch on.
Those events are ceremonies that strengthen social proof (everyone is talking about this, so I will also talk about this).
Another element that complements the text are the visual maps. These help to visualize the most relevant information of the change, and serve as a reminder of the communication work that each leader has.
3. Tell it constantly
In one of our first narrative projects we forgot to insist to our client that the narrative is not communicated once: it has to be communicated many times, to different audiences. Ten times more than you think should be communicated, says Daniel Coyle in The Culture Code.
What happened? They only communicated it once … with very weak results.
These messages have to be repeated over and over, to different groups, in different contexts, “creating a blanket for the organization”, write Lafley and Martin.
So, once they fill the canvas of narrative among many people, design a communication program where it is broadcast at many times.
4. Flexible, adaptable, dynamic
This is a continuation of the previous suggestion. In addition to being told many times, the narrative has to be adapted to different audiences, but also over time: talking about the narrative on the day of the change is not the same as telling it two months later, when events are already happening triggered by this change.
Talking about what is already working generates the feeling that, in the end, change is not as difficult as it seems.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in knowing how we can helo you use this canvas to launch change initiatives in a more successful way.