When was the last time you were taught something to – or worse – preached something to? How did it feel?
The “New Rules”
I remember an instance at one of my Higher Education clients a couple years back. All consultants and employees were required to attend a presentation regarding new policies and processes around accessibility. For change management, this meant designing communications and training with people of different abilities in mind, an important lesson for us all.
The 2 hour long meeting presented the “new rules.” Things like colors that should and shouldn’t be used; modalities that should and shouldn’t be utilized; support and training capabilities to implement, etc.
Unfortunately, most of the audience were on their social media, only pretending to pay attention.
Why did the audience not give more importance to such an important topic? Do people just not care about the disabled?
Stories Remind Us to Care
Over the years, I have attended many such presentations and workshops, and most of them are missing one thing: Stories. The unfortunate thing about the human mind is that as important as we might know something is in theory – we also often need reminders.
How many non-African Americans were as conscious of racism and unconscious bias in modern society, until the recent George Floyd incident took place? Sure, we all knew it was a problem, but let’s be honest. We weren’t paying too much of our limited attention span on it. Most of us probably made our own little mistakes and microaggressions a dozen times without realizing it. Even DESPITE knowing similar, gruesome stories in the not too distant past: Rodney King, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and so many others.
Yes, unfortunately, it’s only now that this real-life story has occurred and come into our awareness again that people are, again, consciously making diversity and inclusion a priority in their lives and behaviors. Companies are again revitalizing their Diversity and Inclusion programs as a major effort.
The truth is, we humans have limited attention spans. Our attention quickly gets usurped by our day to day priorities. And so leaders cannot run the risk of ASSUMING that their organizations know why a change is important and just skip over that part.
Stories remind, stories evoke emotion, and stories compel action. Not theories, not rules, not processes.
Creating a Storytelling Culture
Want to enforce a new policy or process? Want people to behave in a different way? Learn how to tell stories.
The Accessibility presentation at my Higher Ed client would have had a completely different impact, if the presenters had started off with a compelling story that the audience could relate to. Perhaps how a blind student at the University recently suffered lower grades, simply due to the fact that he couldn’t access materials communicating important IT changes that had been made. OK, that got my attention. Now, what do I need to change?
Leaders need to role model storytelling in the organization, and ideally make stories an integral part of the company culture. Because sharing stories in the workplace increases employee engagement, improves collaboration, and allows for increased inclusion. And above all, stories spark action.