Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes
Business transformation is now business as usual. Daniel Vergara González, Managing Director at Robert Half’s Executive Search practice, explains what that means for executive leaders – and why storytelling is a powerful force during times of change.
This could be a story about any business in 2023: it has successfully navigated the pandemic; employees are working remotely and connecting with colleagues in the office; supply chains have been stabilised; inflation is being managed by a responsive finance team.
Then come headlines about generative artificial intelligence. New tools are released almost daily, and stories paint pictures of jobs being wiped out in months or years. The feeling of uncertainty has returned very quickly, after a period of rapid disruption
Businesses have always experienced cycles of change, but perhaps the speed feels more acute now. The number of ongoing crises, compounded by new technology, makes it feel like the world is moving further and faster than before.
According to Robert Half’s Boardroom Navigator 2023, the top skills needed for business transformation are communication skills, previous experience and technical knowledge. They are important for executive leaders, because change does start at the top and needs to be communicated with confidence, pragmatism and honesty.
But stories are also important. Stories help people visualise the future by engaging with their emotional experience, which is vital to encourage and sustain new ways of working; they also provide a reference point for people’s role in the change process, which can motivate individuals and teams towards a common goal.
The problem: just 12% of private equity investors, and 20% of boards, believe storytelling is an important part of the process.
Why stories matter
There are three reasons why both groups should pay attention to stories: they will help counteract the exodus of skilled professionals being courted for roles elsewhere; private equity-backed executive leaders can engage teams in search of growth; stories will also reassure employees about their skills alongside artificial intelligence (AI).
The best leaders are people-driven, show empathy and possess high levels of emotional intelligence; they have the tools they need to tell powerful stories. In a market where there is a shortage of skills and candidates, they can use stories about the future to encourage people to join a business, or to stay.
Investors could also benefit from this approach. Their portfolio businesses are experiencing growth and operational change; sometimes, they are in distress and in need of restructuring. Stories can help their portfolio executive teams to paint a picture of transformation: why it matters, the journey, the benefits, and everyone’s role.
Storytelling will also come to the fore with AI. The technology can already work quickly with words and data, but needs human input to get results. Stories which allow people to see the value of their skills will be powerful. They will help to reduce the fear associated with AI and invite curiosity and creativity instead.
Narrating the future
Business transformation is now business as usual; the difference this time: the drivers of change are exponential. The past three years have proved how quickly business can change, and the arrival of artificial intelligence – at scale – promises a similar script.
Executive leaders can rely on their previous experience of change to some extent; their technical knowledge will help. But their ability to communicate through stories, and help employees visualise the future, will be vital.