A recent poll by the Booktrust suggests less and less young parents are reading to their children.

I hope it’s not true. Because being able to tell a story can make so many things possible.

A good story – well told – can change our perception and behaviour.

A good story can change the world.

And it can certainly change an organisation.

In local government, we sometimes find that one story can change the way we perceive a colleague, client or situation.

But how often does it happen? How often does local government really connect with people through its storytelling – including its own employees?

Not as often as we’d like.

We communicate the science, processes and the whys and wherefores of what we’re doing.

We unleash the ultra-knowledgeable, who communicate the data and detail behind strategies and projects.

But how often does any of this really connect?

In their book Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath look at why some ideas cut the mustard…and others don’t.

They use the SUCCES(s) acronym:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

In this blog-post, I’m going to look at the ‘simple’ and ‘emotional’ elements.

Plus the benefit of communicating corporate messages through the stories of individuals.

simple is good

So how can we promote positive cultural and behavioural change in our organisations by telling stories in a way that sticks?

One technique identified by the Heath brothers is to make your story memorable through simplicity.

It’s not the sound-bite traditionally loved by marketers that they advocate, but the plain old proverb.

Proverbs are a great way to tell a story in a simple, profound and memorable way.

“Do as you would be done by.” That one from my grandmother has always stuck with me…

But back to the point.

One of the biggest communication problems we have in the public sector is that we struggle with ‘simple.’ We often find it hard to impart our knowledge in a clean, succinct and digestible way.

Chip and Dan call it ‘The Curse of Knowledge’ – where people feel compelled to impart their professional knowledge in considerable detail (because they have it at their disposal), despite the fact no-one will understand it.

And when you communicate in too much detail, it’s hard to get much feeling into your message. Which means it’s even less likely to stick.

put feelings first

In his book SwitchWant Your Organisation to Change?, Dan Heath highlights the benefits of putting feelings first.

In other words, thinking about the emotional message you want to get across before the detail.

Heath talks about it in the film clip below. It definitely provides food for thought.

And think about this…

History is built on facts and detail. Right?

Well, maybe it connects with people best when it’s built on feelings first?

Terry Deary – author of Horrible Histories  – has captured the imagination of millions of youngsters for the past 20 years. He’s succeeded where many academics have failed.

Why? By instilling edginess, comedy and emotion into his storytelling. People can relate to what he says and it becomes memorable.

tell stories through people

People are at the heart of what we do in the public sector.

If one person – an employee or customer – is given a platform to talk about a positive experience with empathy and feeling, it can effect a more positive change within our organisation than any amount of data or reasoning.

Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business in the USA, says that stories are “up to 22 times more effective than facts alone.”

Obvious, when you think about it. But so easy to forget.

We’re in a time of unprecedented change in local government. We are working differently, delivering services differently and thinking differently.

At Wrexham Council, one of the ways we’re achieving that cultural shift is by telling simple, emotional stories that stick.

And by encouraging our employees and customers to share their stories.

Up to now, maybe the public sector hasn’t felt comfortable putting feeling into its messages.

I’ve got a feeling (no pun intended) that’s about to change.

Like the Heath brothers suggest, our stories must have lasting impact.