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Culture Change Through Storytelling: Give ‘Em Something To Believe In

This is a guest post. Expect to hear some exciting news about Dyn Culture very, very soon!

Change is the new constant.

You might think it takes more than just a good yarn to gain people’s trust and commitment. Yet, storytelling is the key to transforming your culture. People have stopped believing in the same old stories — especially when it comes to inspiring, motivating or mandated change.

Make Sense Of It All

Dyn Culture
Storytelling in an era long ago.

Nobody likes a change story. People crave a continuity story.

As chief storyteller, you have to connect the dots in the story for your people. You need to provide stepping stones that allow people to locate themselves in the new story. You have to answer, “How is this a natural evolution of who we’ve always been, rather than a radical and unfamiliar departure?”

People have become attached to the “old story” because it’s what they know and have come to expect. This leads to resistance.

In many ways, change storytelling is about making that new story real. Not some “Once upon a time” fairy tale, but rather a tangible, palpable experience that people can point to and say, “Look, that future already exists!” In effect, you’re socializing your new story into reality by showing it’s already here and how it makes everyone’s life better.

In essence, you’re moving from an old story to a new story and getting others to believe in the new one is your ultimate task. With leaders often finding themselves in an environment of suspicion and distrust, that makes creating culture architecture difficult.

Since the future of your company, division or initiative hangs in the balance (not to mention your prospects as a leader), it’s baffling why more leaders don’t embrace the power of purposeful storytelling, especially in the workplace.

If the problem is too much managerial speak and old school stories, then the solution is a new story based in real relationship.

Three Storytelling Principles to Guide Your Efforts

  • Truth – have the courage to discuss what’s on everybody’s mind.
  • Empathy – show people that you really care and give a damn about them.
  • Vulnerability – acknowledge your imperfections and people will trust you.


It sounds novel to talk about telling the truth in a work context, but really, how often is a lack of facts and truth in your company causing problems in your change efforts? Stop and think about what’s missing from the conversation. People lack information, which creates fear and a sense of no control. By disclosing more information and showing a willingness to be honest and open, people will trust you more.


How many times have you heard that management makes empty promises or when there’s a big change coming, the spin is “this will be good for you” despite legitimate concerns raised by front line staff? Empathy is showing that you give a damn and you really understand what your people think and feel.

Most of all, you take the time to find out. This means you might have to get out from behind your desk and get into the thick of what everyone is feeling. Can you afford not to?


This is the hardest one for us to master, because managers have been trained to “be the boss”. Don’t let them see you sweat. Be in control!

Vulnerability earns you street cred with your staff. Acknowledging you’re not perfect, you don’t have all the answers and you’re not ashamed to say so is a sign of self-confidence. Vulnerability also invites your audience to lean in and discover they share something in common with you.

They will be far more willing and patient with the bumps in the road if they feel you’re just as invested and with as much to lose. Plus in storytelling terms, you’re setting them up to continue onto the next chapter and to journey with you, since there’s something that still needs to be figured out together. (Remember, you did just admit you’re not perfect…)

Rekindle Faith in a New Future

It’s your job to tell a story that others can believe in, which requires more than slick words or lofty promises. It’s your responsibility to articulate a larger cause or reason for being, to demonstrate leadership’s commitment to the goal and to provide the culture architecture that can make it happen.

In the words of William Gibson, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not widely distributed yet.”

These ideas are further explored in this video with Zappos Insights.

Michael Margolis is founder of Get Storied, Dean of Story University, author of “Believe Me: A Storytelling Manifesto for Change-Makers and Innovators”, a short book that’s gone viral on the web. You can download a free copy here. Michael also produces the Reinvention Summit, a virtual conference on storytelling for marketers, change-makers, and creatives, taking place this April 16-20.

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