WHAT’S YOUR STORY? (PART 3, GUIDELINES 6-8 FOR WRITING YOUR STORY)

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Picture1penIn my last post I introduced the first five guidelines for writing your story.

  1. Start with your why.
  2. Write from the future.
  3. Identify how you will know when you reach your destination.
  4. Establish your time frame.
  5. Create a “sparkline.”

In this post I will describe the final three guidelines. Keep in mind, while the examples may be written in terms of either organizational or personal change, the underlying principles remain the same for both.


6. Determine who the participants in your story will be, and the roles they will play.

This is not an easy one! And, you may not be able to fully answer it at the outset. Nonetheless, it is important that you give significant thought to who the participants in your story will be, and the roles that they will play.

In an earlier post (Anchors, Aweigh) I wrote about anchors. I have found it easiest for people to determine the participants in the story by beginning with some anchor questions.

1. Who are the people that are anchoring you now? 2. What is the nature of the anchor each plays? 3. What is the relationship that exists between the two of you? Now, reflect on each of these relationships again, applying the same “from the future” lens as we discussed last post. 4. Will each of these people still play an anchoring role in the future? 5. If so, will it be the same as it is now, or how will it be different?  

Let me give you an example.

My client (let’s call him Frank) had been brought in to head up a manufacturing facility that was one of several in a global organization. The facility had been built to produce a product that had been designed by his predecessor, Steve.  Steve was a hero not just at the facility, but throughout the organization. And, he was an extremely weak leader. Here is how Frank thought through these questions regarding Steve.

  1. Steve has to be a participant in this story.
  2. Steve is anchoring this facility in two ways right now. On the positive, he is seen as a guru, the reason the facility is here. If anyone has any questions about the product, thoughts on improvement, etc., they go to Steve. On the negative, under Steve’s leadership the facility has developed a poor performance record. There are major quality and productivity issues that Frank has been brought in to address.
  3. In discussions with Steve before he accepted the assignment, it became clear to Frank that Steve had never wanted to lead a facility, and was glad to be able to step out of that role. At the same time, Steve felt threatened; if he left his current position he felt that he would lose prestige, and might well lose any relationship he enjoyed with the facility and its people.
  4. Frank had negotiated the right to terminate Steve. He also knew that doing so would be extremely disruptive and undermine his credibility. Not only was Steve highly revered; he was the “source of knowledge” regarding all aspects of their only product. As we talked things through, Frank decided that, if at all possible, the future story had to include Steve in a position that would allow him to continue to bring value to the facility.
  5. A new position was created for Steve. He became “Product Guru.” Frank and Steve worked together to define his responsibilities so that it was clear to everyone that Frank was in charge; Steve (gladly) stepped out of any operating responsibility. A program was set up that allowed Steve to develop a pool of employees who had a deep understanding of the product. Finally, the Board of Directors renamed the facility in honor of Steve; it became the only facility in the company that was known by the name of a person, rather than its location.

At the outset, Frank could not know how the story might end… He did know that Steve needed to be a part of it.

One more step is required to fully complete the participant list for your story. That is to identify those who have not been participants in the past, but are needed to bring your story to fruition in the future. If your story has you comfortably enjoying your retirement, it may require a financial planner. In the example I just laid out, Frank knew that he needed the guidance of someone who understood the patterns of change.

What are the answers to the anchor questions above for your story?

Who are the new participants that you will need to write into your story?


7. Honor the past.

Looking at the example above, you will see that one of the things that Frank did was to honor the past, to recognize and value what Steve had made possible.

All too often when planning or in the midst of change, the past gets rewritten. The mindset seems to be, “If they had done things differently, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.” The truth is, no matter what has been done in the past, change is inevitable. And, sometimes, big, highly disruptive change will happen.

Look at the past for what it has made possible. It has brought you to this point. It has given you (and/or your organization) the knowledge and the resources that are now available to help successfully navigate to the future. It has helped to shape the thinking that will allow that future to be defined.

Breaking with that past is always difficult; that difficulty is made worse when those who created and sustained what is in place are the ones who will have to now dismantle it. Sometimes the unconscious (or even conscious) decision is made to disparage the past as a way of making it easier to let go. (How many times, for example, have you seen someone who regularly has talked about enjoying their job in the past, suddenly begin to bad-mouth everything about it as they prepare to leave for a new job elsewhere?)

In my own experience and that of my clients, the truth is, if we can find a way to honor and respect what has come before, to acknowledge what it has made possible and where it has brought us, it is much easier to stand on that and step forward into the future.

How will you honor the past in your story?


8. Respect and believe in yourself.

Frequently I will have a client say to me, “Why did I wait so long to…(decide to change careers, decide to start my own business, redirect our organizational strategy, decide to come out, etc.)?” All too often this will be followed by some form of negative self-judgment. This only undermines your belief in yourself, and in your ability to create the future that is your why.

How will you demonstrate respect for, and belief in, yourself in your story?


Those are the eight guidelines that I use with my clients, whether organizations or individuals, as I work with them to write their stories.

If you have a change story you are telling yourself (and/or others), how well does it line up with these guidelines?

If you have not yet written your story, it is important that you do so. It won’t happen in one sitting; but you should start it today. And remember, start with your why!


Do you have a change story you want to share with readers of Change Mentor? Email me at [email protected]


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