4 simple steps to craft a compelling “why” for your change.

02 September 2020

Don't tell them what you are doing, tell them why you are doing it.

author picture Article written by Morten Kamp Andersen

You carefully explained what was going to change, and how. You repeated and reframed the message, many times. But to no avail. Resistance to change is a hard thing to beat, and the biggest cause of project failure. You need to shift the conversation. Here is the trick: don´t tell them what you are doing, tell them why you are doing it. A compelling why is all it takes to galvanise people into action and make change happen. The following model designed by our partner PROSCI guides you through the process of crafting the story of change. A simple, straightforward, yet highly effective method to get it right the first time around.

The story of change, in a nutshell.

The model is divided into four sections, each one targeting a specific set of arguments. You should start with the logical aspect of the “why”. But no not dwell too much on facts and figures, as doing so would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. Explore the other quadrants moving clockwise. Leave no stones unturned. The true added value of the model lies in leveraging emotions and vivid visual imagery. Come up with a narrative that weaves together all the above pieces. Take past or external successful experiences as examples to add dimension. Whatever the arguments for the change, they should live in a story that appeals to the imagination.


Step 1: “Facts and hard numbers”, the logical why.

Think business case and ROI. Think empirical evidence, the analytical fast track. The logical why is everything you bring to the board table to secure approval for the initiative. Change needs excellent sponsorship. Elevate your influence using facts, figures, lists and features.

Some would say that the “logical why” is what your left brain loves the most. This, in turn, suggests that something is missing. Though overly simplistic, this cognitive model serves as a reminder not to put too much emphasis on analytical information – admittedly easy to forget and certainly less relatable. Your message would stop short of including other impactful arguments. Conventional wisdom has it that “we know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart”.

Step 2: “A deep dive into feelings”, the emotional why.

Leadership alignment is one thing. Full-on commitment across all levels of the organisation is another. Know your audience, down to each of its members. Universal concepts like equality, respect, teamwork, belonging, pride, energy, wellness, personal growth, excellence, safety … etc., resonate with people on a deeper level.

Kickstart the brainstorming process with these two key questions: “What´s in there for your collaborators?”, “How do they feel about the change and its impact?” Discuss their values, principles, and beliefs. This part might be a bit more difficult to navigate. Egos and fears will get in the way. Create a safe environment for everyone to be heard, without judgement. Empathy mapping is a remarkably effective complementary tool to structure the effort. If you are not familiar with this method, check out our step-by-step tutorial.

Step 3 : “What comes first to mind”, the visual why.

Marrying intuitive and analytical thinking brings the best results. You are a visual thinker. We all are. Any idea you can think of will probably trigger a whole host of images populated with characters, themselves located in specific places, moving around, and performing actions. The single most powerful method to simplify complex information is to use pictures. Not only that. Visualisation is also a method extensively used to heighten awareness and boost confidence.

Envision the change, visualise its progress, feel the benefits. What will the future state look like once the change has been implemented? Give flesh and bones to your “why”. It will do wonders for driving engagement and help people stay the course. Change is a long-term endeavour, one that stretches well beyond the (misleading) finish-line of implementation.

Step 4: “The all-encompassing story”: it´s a wrap!

Characters, facts, images, and emotions – all of the above – make up the fabric of a good story. A narrative is a way to organise information, help people connect and empathise. It has a beginning, a middle and an end - hence the term “narrative arc”. So, from there, lay out the background (context and main challenge), describe the set of pivotal actions, and talk about the results. You want to deliver a meaningful climax, the goal everyone should be working towards. Storyboard your ideas to ensure visual consistency.

One last tip: share success stories to add a tangible extra layer!

The power of storytelling is second-to-none when it comes to creating a message that inspires action. Be memorable, relatable, and get people on board in no time.

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