Strategic Transformation: The Power of Stories to Motivate Change

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Written by: Brent Bowman, HOW Activator

Strategic transformation requires bold action on the part of executives who are often several levels removed from the lived experiences of people who are dealing with challenging environments. Taking the time to curate stories and share them in an effective way can not only spark this bold action, it can inspire leaders to stick with the transformation even when it gets hard.

Early in my career, I was responsible for a 225-person, 24/7 medical contact center for one of the largest integrated payor/provider health systems in the United States. We were grappling with patient experience issues, and the contact center was on the front lines, trying to help but being limited by our technology and process constraints. As hard as I tried to convince our physician executive team and board of directors of the severity of the problem, I just couldn’t get them to commit to the changes I believed needed to be made. We needed a moderate investment in a new technology solution and the leaders needed to take courageous action as sponsors to solve the challenges we had.

I knew I needed to create clarity and connect them to the lived experiences of the contact center representatives. I put word out to all 225 agents to let me know when they had a particularly challenging phone call with a patient who didn’t get what they needed because of an organizational barrier we had in place. Examples rolled in quickly, and I pulled the recordings and spliced together a representative sample that I had fully transcribed. Then I played these actual recordings for the executives as they read along.

The experience was visceral for them. I could see the concern wash over their faces as they started to say things like “This can’t really be what our patients experience”; “How have we let things get this bad?”; “We have no choice but to change this.” From that strong foundation, we were able to drive a commitment to transform the call center and fuel the courage to take bold action when necessary.

They had been hearing from me for months about how the data indicated a serious problem, but it was the individual narratives that pushed them to take action.

The combination of data and narrative is a powerful motivator for bold decisions to move forward.

If you are struggling to get leaders aligned to a new direction or to make a decision to place a big bet, it might feel comfortable to focus on data, but without the voices of the people who are most impacted, you may struggle to get traction.

Strategic transformation requires bold action on the part of executives who are often several levels removed from the lived experiences of people who are dealing with challenging environments. Taking the time to curate stories and share them in an effective way can not only spark this bold action, it can inspire leaders to stick with the transformation even when it gets hard.

man presenting to a team of people in a conference room

Sometimes, YOU are the story

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At Karrikins Group we talk a lot about the power of stories to create clarity, connect people to shared goals, build commitment to action, and bolster courage when things get hard. It isn’t uncommon for executives to struggle to come up with compelling stories – they’d rather depend on the data to guide their actions. But this is short-sighted. In these situations, I encourage executives to go out and collect or create their own stories by getting involved in a new way. Sometimes, as an executive, you may have your own story that people begin to share as they connect with the new behaviors the organization needs.

On a cold February day in Colorado, I sat waiting anxiously on the platform of a water-filled carnival dunk tank as softballs were handed out to various contact center staff—with me as their target. Now, as an executive for this large health system, I had a team that had been struggling for years with a combination of ‘January blues’ and a serial ‘case of the Mondays’. It was a well-established pattern – every January we had a huge number of new patients who were calling in to establish a relationship with our care providers. Mondays were the highest day for call volume each week. And in that mix, January + Mondays equaled a lot of stress, not to mention poor service levels. Call center agents routinely called out sick, making it even more stressful for the people who showed up to work. The result was a predictable mismatch between supply and demand that created a negative first experience for new members. And, as anyone in customer service knows, it is incredibly difficult to overcome a poor first impression. The hit to our net promotor score was immediate and felt inevitable. I could have pressured my team leaders to figure it out (or accept the inevitable), but I knew it would take more than the usual incentive type of program. This team needed to know they mattered, to me, and to the other executives.

Enter “Mondays Matter”, an employee engagement program to double down on the importance of coming to work on Mondays in support of not only the department’s goals but the broader organization’s strategy to improve its customer service experience.

I asked other executives to join me in visiting our call center employees on Mondays in January to hand out bagels, breakfast burritos, and coffee, and to say thanks for being here. We created a low-cost incentive for team members to show up for work and deliver great service. The program worked like a charm: staff showed up to work, the team surpassed their goal and the organization’s customer service scores followed suit. And the result of that was me, sitting in the aforementioned dunk tank! I had made a commitment at the beginning of the year that if certain targets were achieved, I’d participate, and I’m a man of my word.

Leading strategic transformation takes more than executive suite discussions.

If you want to transform how things get done, showing up, being visible, and engaging in unexpected ways sends a clear message to your colleagues that you are invested in the process. It is so impactful when executives get involved, show up, and are present for the people who are delivering to customers, patients, or members.

I’m not saying you have to go so far as to get dunked in cold water in February in Colorado, but I’d encourage you to think about how your presence helps to make memorable experiences for your people. As a leader, you are an important part of their stories, and your actions matter. When you show up it creates clarity and connection for teams, and it demonstrates your commitment and courage to work on their behalf. And that’s a big part of successful strategic transformations.

If you are interested in learning more about strategic transformation, check out our guide with resources, Delivering an Ambitious Growth Strategy.

About The Author

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Brent Bowman

Brent Bowman

Principal / HOW Activator

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Brent is a Principal and HOW Activator at Karrikins Group. He helps leaders and teams develop and deliver on ambitious growth strategies through positive behavior change.

Brent has extensive experience in strategy definition and execution at the executive level. He helps cultivate innovative and game-changing insights and works to establish deep agreement on the right strategies.

Once the strategies are set, Brent knows the power of building the alignment necessary to consistently execute. Strategy execution is a habit that forms for individuals and groups, and he works with leadership teams to create the discipline to lead through the lens of alignment to strategic goals.

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