Success Lies in the Narrative


During change processes, it is always a matter of learning new behavior. Learning is an active-constructive process of creating significance and not merely saving information. Thus, it does not suffice to merely send information within the company, we must start an active communication process–a process which combines information with actions and thus allows the employees to feel the necessity to change. This process occurs very differently in our brains–in a much different way than we, as a rule, perceive and/or want to perceive. Perhaps this is precisely the reason that, as in the past, during many change processes, too little time and energy are invested in designing the communication to be “brain-friendlier” at all levels.


As a rule, based upon our neurobiological requirements, many of us are not designed to welcome change. Balance and harmony are strong focuses for many people. The striving for something new, the stimulance power in our brain, dominates only among a small minority of the people. Thus, before each change process, but also during the transformation as the reflection of the process, it is thus also important to very intensively address the Why; we then call this the Case for Action. Abstract future-oriented images, the presentation of risks and opportunities in high-gloss brochures generate no emotions during the communication. The affected persons must feel the urgency and perceive the path into the future as being positive (in comparison with the present). We cannot force change from “above”, we must convince the affected persons to awaken the intrinsic motivation in themselves in order to produce the required identification with the goal. Ines Robbers (Lead of Digital Change at Drägerwerk AG) referred very impressively in an interview in the Organizational Development magazine which was recently published in which she stated how important the narrative is during the communication of change processes. Encouraging story-telling and inviting one to use these metaphors, figures and visuals for one’s own purposes.


Changes succeed or fail oftentimes at the mid-management level. However, it is often the case that relevant information from the management level flows only in a very time-delayed manner and/or in a limited manner at the mid-level. But this is precisely this mid-management level which plays an essential role as the multiplier during the communication; it has the direct contact to the employees. However, employees also want answers to their questions–questions which affect their identity, their status or sometimes even their very existence. Thus, it is extremely important that these multipliers during the change process are integrated at the outset into the learning of new things. If these communicators are not convinced of the change, then the emotions of the employees will not be sufficiently positively motivated and any efforts upon the part of the management level will then likewise be in vain.  Thus, the mid-level managers must be (internally) convinced of the change in order to also be able to give the right answers emotionally to their employees. They are the critical success factor in the communication pyramid.


Emotion psychologists and neuropsychologists have found out that, at the beginning of each interaction and each meeting, the empathy and the credibility of the conversational partner are being assessed. This occurs extremely quickly and subconsciously via the analysis of the facial expression, the voice, the gestures and the posture. Above all the amygdala and the insular, temporal-parietal and orbital-frontal cortex are responsible for this process. Thus, employees determine very quickly whether the respective manager is convinced of and motivated by the change. The managers themselves are often not aware of this and believe that they could “overplay” this. Therefore, the communication is a process which starts internally. As long as we are not convinced of the goal, it is better to leave the communication to other persons.


Story-telling produces feelings which decide whether it is worthwhile to support the change or not. From our early childhoods, we have learned that if the new behavior does not lead to a reward, then a system exists in the brain which blocks the motivation. Attentiveness and the distribution of specific learning-promoting substances such as noradrenaline, dopamine and acetylcholine steer our willingness to learn. Thus, during our communication, we must convey to the employees (particularly to those who are characterized by balance and harmony) that learning is something that is wonderful. Stories–particularly if they are presented authentically and produce associations to what they themselves have experienced–can help us to verify whether the efforts to make changes will be rewarded.


Thus, good communication during change processes begins with the emotional transparency of the transformation. As multipliers, the first and second management levels represent the essential success factor. This communication is based not only purely on cognitive, but rather quite essentially emotional-motivational factors. Therefore, during the entire transformation process, sufficiently large amounts of time and resources must be provided in order to internalize the emotional and motivational levels. A presentation, an e-mail from the company’s management, but even a workshop alone will not accomplish this. During the preparatory phase, efficient communication needs the active addressing of themes in order to compel our brain to learn. The narrative is beneficial in this regard and let’s take sufficient time for it!

If you liked this article, then please comment on our Facebook page and I would be very pleased to receive a “Like”.