Undergoing Digital Transformation? Use Storytelling to Smooth the Transition

The push to integrate digital technology into all areas of business is now table stakes, and if you’re part of a team leading the charge, you’re probably feeling the pressure.

Study1 after study2 has shown that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technology by several years, leaving businesses with no choice but to up their digital game. But here’s a truth many business leaders are missing when it comes to digital transformation: Making your business digital-first is only half the challenge.

The other half? Well, that’s another story that isn’t analog or digital—it’s human.

Like any change initiative, digital transformation requires leaders to get everyone on board and in alignment, and the only way that can happen is with effective change communication.

Enter business storytelling. With the right skills and mindset, your team can use the power of story to not only effectively communicate your digital strategy, but garner the internal and external buy-in you need to make it a success.

Why is Change Communication Important?

Whether you’re leveling up your data protection and security, implementing customer data platforms, or powering your business through AI-driven initiatives, digital transformation is more than just a technology upgrade. It’s a total shift in the way your organization operates and even more so, the way your employees work and communicate with one another. And let’s face it—most people resist change, especially if there is a learning curve attached to it.

Research shows that 70% of complex, large-scale change programs don’t reach their stated goals.3 In fact, one report estimates that some Fortune 100 companies have lost hundreds of billions of dollars on failed digital transformation programs.4

While the reasons behind a failed change initiative are pretty nuanced and unique to each company, most experts seem to agree on one common pitfall: Poor communication. In the end, most leaders just don’t have the skills needed to get the entire organization – not to mention external stakeholders – to buy-in and stay engaged long enough to make the transformation a success.3

Storytelling: Your Secret Change Agent

The good news is that change management communication is a learned skill that aligns perfectly with the business storytelling framework:

  • Storytelling can be adapted to diverse audiences. Communicating a digital transformation means you’ll have to share with multiple stakeholders throughout the business, whether that’s a C-suite executive, an IT manager, or a team leader. And of course, your efforts will need to be communicated outside the business as well. For example, if the digital transformation will change the way you work with your customers, partners, or suppliers, they’ll need to be in the know. The storytelling framework of WHY, WHAT, and HOW can easily be adapted to the perspective of each stakeholder, while still maintaining the same BIG Idea. This keeps your narrative both compelling and consistent, which keeps everyone moving in the same direction and working toward the same goals.
  • Storytelling creates a human connection. Storytelling is built upon four structural elements – setting, characters, conflict, and a resolution – that create a familiar pattern of ideas that gives your audience a reason to care and feel something. By framing up your digital transformation with this approach, your audience – and customers, in particular – will connect with the characters in your story and see the humanity in your message. Storytelling allows you to effectively communicate the ways in which digital transformation will impact them in the long run. This will lead to stronger customer partnerships built on trust and shared mutual goals.
  • Storytelling in business can be used in any form of communication. An effective digital transformation communications plan should include frequent communications and often in different formats. The storytelling framework can be implemented no matter how you are sharing information, from e-mails and town hall meetings to one-pagers and team presentations. Every form of business communication is an opportunity to tell a compelling story, and in this case, it can be used to reinforce the key messages around your digital transformation initiative.
  • Storytelling improves data literacy and builds executive presence. After a digital transformation is underway, executive leadership will want to know how it is progressing – whether it’s budget updates, digital spending trends, or ROI on your digital investments. Knowing how to use storytelling to share updates with valuable data insights will be critical to telling executives what they need to know without overwhelming them with numbers. This not only improves your team’s data literacy, it helps build executive presence and overall confidence.

Make Storytelling Part of Your Digital Strategy

Using storytelling to smooth out the edges of your digital transformation is almost a no-brainer. Although most people don’t like change, everyone likes a good story.

The truth is, any type of change initiative will usher in some level of resistance and employee pushback. Digital transformation is no exception. The key is to be proactive and have a concrete communication strategy in place.

Change communication built around storytelling will give your leaders the skills they need to address the human element of change management, while keeping key stakeholders informed and on track to meet your digital transformation goals.