Are you creating a compelling story? - KPMG Global
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Are you creating a compelling story?

Are you creating a compelling story?

Storytelling for change: top five ways to address the transformational change challenge.


Global Head of People & Change

KPMG in the UK


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Increasingly, today’s organizations are facing some kind of transformational change. To lead that change successfully, today’s senior leaders need the right tools to not only survive the change but also to derive real value.

But are they ready? Less than half of the executives we surveyed in this year’s Global Transformation study (HR Transformation: which lens are you using?) say they feel well positioned to deliver sustainable value from business transformation1. It is fair to say that those in more junior positions feel even less confident about their ability to lead change.

We’ve seen that the key to addressing the transformational change challenge is to build an environment in which others can deliver rather than trying to do it all themselves.

One critical step is the ability to create a compelling story.

Storytelling is an age-old tool – and that’s exactly what makes it so powerful. A story can go where quantitative analysis fails to gain admission: our hearts and long-term memory. As a business competency, storytelling uses a communication style that draws on authenticity, personal experience, practical examples and organizational context to provide a narrative that builds support for the change.

Moreover, storytelling shows that a workforce motivated by a strong sense of higher purpose is essential to engagement. With that in mind, we spoke to 5 of our subject matter professionals in the global people & change practice and asked them 5 of the most frequently asked questions that arise when working with clients around the globe to help them build capability in creating a compelling story.

Why is storytelling a critical Change Leadership skill?

Sarah Petherick, Senior Manager, KPMG International

Three reasons stand out:

  • Stories motivate everyone to pull in the same direction, to understand the bigger purpose of what they’re doing and why. People want to understand and make sense of their roles or they don’t perform at their best. When change leaders are good at creating a compelling story, they ensure that their team is motivated and engaged and performs to its full potential.
  • Stories help people stay focused and ignore the “noise.” In the typical transformation environment in which most organizations operate today, there’s so much change going on that there may be conflicting or competing messages. Understanding how their work fits into the bigger picture helps people make decisions that move the organization in the same direction.
  • Stories tap into the emotional side of the brain, encouraging a greater level of buy-in for the change. Individuals are likely to have different motivators. If you want to get them on board, it’s important to be able to tap into their motivators through a compelling story. It’s the foundational piece of being able to effect any change successfully in an organization – being able to create a compelling vision or a story that engages people and gives them a reason to start doing things differently.

What makes a compelling story?

Tim Bergin, Senior Manager, KPMG in the UK

You’re looking for anything that elicits an emotional connection with the audience. Facts and figures only go so far and do not engage those areas of the brain that make a story” stick.” Using a compelling story to deliver a message that creates a sense of tension and interest -- engaging the emotional center of the brain -- can actually cause the audience to feel the emotions we are seeking to portray, making the message more memorable.

Why is authenticity more important than positivity?

Rachel Coates, Senior Manager, KPMG International

Stories don’t always need to paint a picture of pure positivity. In fact, for people to really connect, a storyteller must not present everything as perfect but instead connect with the hearts and minds of the people around them through their own real-life experiences. What counts here is authenticity in the content of the message and the way it is delivered.

How do you make the story clear and help it circulate throughout the organization?

Michelle Kent, Partner, KPMG in the U.S.

Start by creating a story that you will tell, building off the set of core messages delivered from the top. Then talk to your team about the upcoming change and what it means for them. Use examples that you know are meaningful and authentic. Solicit team feedback in a coordinated loop that circulates suggestions throughout the organization. If you fail to include any of these elements, you run the risk of people making up their own stories.

How do you know you’ve succeeded?

Vishalli Dongrie, Partner, KPMG in India

Every transformation story is based on a journey with ups and downs. When it comes to identifying success stories, you will start to see engagement that proves you have shifted the story from the heads to the hearts of the individuals in your organization. Each success story acts as an inspiration and reference for employees to emulate. Success is a continuous process, giving employees opportunities to create individual and team stories that live on.


1 HR Transformation: Which lens are you using? KPMG International, 2017.

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