The power of storytelling through organisational change

“People don’t make decisions based on rational analysis of data…
When under stress, rational argument, instructions and value are not effective…
It is stories which will engage them.”

Photo by: Andrew Mason

Photo by: Andrew Mason

Tony Quinlan, Principal Consultant and Chief Storyteller at Narrate consultancy says that people get to grip with organisational change much easier if that change is told with a story. This is because we are more skeptical of change when it is presented as a straight line – because people’s experience of change is not linear.

Instead, Quinlan highlights the significance of taking those involved on a journey, before reaching the ideal destination, using stories as an effective tool to do so.

Quinlan demonstrates this point using a model he calls the ‘vision arc’. (For me, this fits nicely with ‘Theory U’ – ie. the need to take serveral steps before achieving the end goal.)

Using one of our clients, who are a big publishing company, as an example really brings this concept to life.

People within this organisation know that change is necessary because people simply aren’t reading books in the same way that they used to. In fact, they’re using completely new methods to access information which is changing the roles of all the people in between – from authors writing the books to the consumer, or reader.

Using Quinlan’s vision arc, we can see the steps which the organisation needs to go through, in order to fully get to grips with this change:

1. The need or opportunity then is to get to the point where the organisation has the ability to adapt to these new changes and become more relevant to their customers as a result.

2. To really understand the change they’re going through and how to deal with it, they need to collect stories from all the stakeholders involved.

3. The next step is to analyse the stories presented by each of these stakeholders…

4. to identify the points of disruption – in this case, the affect of the disruption of technology on each of these stakeholders.

5. It is only then that they can find ways to deal with these changes and they will be more brought in as a result.

For me, I can see the benefit of having the organisation go through this process several times before finding a solution – and of course, to be truly agile. Similarly, Quinlan highlights the need for testing and overcoming obstacles and says that making mistakes is all part of the process towards achieving the buy-in required from within the organisation.


The Chaordic Path and The Power of Asking Questions

My colleagues, Max St John, Anna Carlson and Steve Winton recently shared some practical tools and techniques they came armed with after an an Art of Hosting weekend. This blog post is a collection of thoughts about how one of these techniques in particular made me realise the power of asking questions.



One of these was a model, or framework, called The Chaordic Path. This is essentially the relationship between chaos and order, and is something I can relate to very well in my every day life.

Most people will favour, recognise or relate to an environment which strongly holds one of these binaries at it’s core. Whether it’s in their personal or work life, some people will lean towards the chaotic side of the path, and others, the ordered side.

Personally, I sit more towards the chaotic side. As a consultant at NixonMcInnes, doing the type of work we do, in an environment which experiences so much change, you need to be fairly flexible in your ability to adapt and embrace chaos.

However, The Chaordic Path demonstrates the need for a balance of these two binaries in order to be more effective within these environments – whilst sitting bang in the middle of the pathway is idealistic.

To strike this balance, or to become remotely close, a minimum amount of chaos in a structured world is required, and visa-versa.

This could mean, in an ordered world for example, ‘doing something different‘. A recent Meaning Conference speaker, Karen Pine, talked about the significance of this – breaking out of normal routines in every day life. Wearing different clothes, taking a different route to work or just changing the position of your desk in the office are all potential opportunities to change your outlook on life and, as Karen argues, also changes your personal effectiveness and well being.

In a chaotic world, the minimum amount of order required to increase effectiveness, could be as simple as starting out with a question.

The idea of starting with a simple question for any ‘chaos’ experienced is fascinating for me.

This can be powerful for organising ‘chaos’ intrinsically, ie. your thoughts, or it could be a means of structuring something more physical, like a meeting for example.

In fact, I’ve started using this little trick for pretty much everything and I’ve found it extremely useful. I even started this blog post with the question, “How will I implement some of the recent models and frameworks learned, to improve my work?”.

The Role Of The Community Manager

We’ve been talking a lot about ‘facilitation’ recently, where I work at NixonMcInnes. The role of the facilitator is very closely aligned with that of the community manager. Here’s some thoughts on the overlap and how it might be useful to practice some facilitation techniques in a community management type role.


I often hear people ask the question, “why would anyone want to interact with a brand?”.

Community management, however, isn’t about trying to get your customers talking to the brand as such – rather, it’s about creating a space for people interested in the same relevant topic, ethos or discussion which can then become associated with your brand.

According to FeverBee, this can be achieved by creating a psychological sense of community whereby those members will want to interact with each other. But, how can you create that psychological sense of community where people will be motivated to do this?

For Richard Millington at FeverBee, the community manager becomes a moderator. However, for me, the role of facilitator has a stronger connection.

If we take a look at John Heron’s facilitation model then, we can see that there are six dimensions of facilitation and three modes of which these dimensions can be handled. It’s these ‘modes’ that provide the most use to me, especially for this example. These are:

1. The hierarchical mode

Here, the facilitator directs the learning process, exercising power over it, and doing things for the group; the facilitator leads from the front by thinking and acting on behalf of the group.

2. The co-operative mode

Here the facilitator shares power over the learning process and managing the different dimensions with the group” s/he enables and guides the group to become more self-directing in the various forms of learning by conferring with them. S/he prompts and helps group members.

3. The autonomous mode

Here the facilitator respects the total autonomy of the group: s/he does not do things for them, or with them, but gives them freedom to find their own way, exercising their own judgement without any intervention.

It is the mix of all three of these modes which provide a useful framework for the group’s ‘learning process’ (or for this example, ‘process of participation’ might be a better phrase). Essentially this means that the facilitator, or community manager, needs to be authoritative (or ‘hierarchical’) but also gives the community space to interact with one another (illustrated by the ‘autonomous mode’) in order to create this psychological sense of community.

In this way, the facilitator will use different behaviours for each of the different modes highlighted below:

1. The hierarchical mode can be demonstrated by removing spam/ innappropriate materials, resolving conflict which are all things that can put people off participating.

2. The co-operative model can be demontsrated through simply asking a question and providing other prompts for discussions.

3. The autonomous mode can be demonstrated by allowing the community to ask and answer their own questions.

By moving between these three modes of facilitation as you need them, you will ensure that you get the balance right between a) removing barriers to participation and b) motivating participation, whilst also remaining visible enough to your community without being overpowering that it will put them off.