For a fleet manager, stories can be more than just entertaining anecdotes – they can be a powerful tool to motivate technicians, change employee behavior and garner senior management’s support.
But what exactly is storytelling in a utility fleet environment? How do you tell a good story, especially if you’ve never thought of yourself as a great communicator?
In an interview I conducted with Paul Smith, leadership trainer and author of the best-selling book “Lead with a Story,” Smith said that storytelling is “a way of getting your message across without making your audience feel defensive, so they will be more open to what you have to say.”
How do stories make the audience more open to your message?
“A story activates a different part of the brain, where instead of being critical and analyzing, they’re just listening to the story,” Smith said. “It creates that open frame of mind in people in a way that data alone cannot do.”
The idea is that you can use stories to influence people without wagging your finger at them or telling them what to do. Stories allow the listener to arrive at conclusions themselves, making them more receptive to you and more motivated to follow through on your message.
So, what does storytelling look like when you’re managing people in a utility fleet environment?
Suppose you're rolling out an initiative that could bring significant changes to your organization – whether it's rightsizing the fleet, deploying telematics or switching maintenance software systems. You'll inevitably encounter employees who don't want those changes to happen, doing everything they can to undermine your efforts.
That’s where stories come in.
For example, you could tell employees a story about another fleet that deployed telematics. At first, employees resisted the idea of Big Brother watching them. Then one of their drivers was involved in a vehicle crash and considered at fault for the incident. But the vehicle’s telematics data told a different story – what actually happened – that proved the employee’s actions didn’t cause the collision. And he was exonerated.
The story’s lesson: It's natural to be wary of change. But the telematics rollout wasn't about the company trying to be Big Brother. It was about building a safer and more efficient fleet. And telematics can be a powerful tool to help good drivers protect their safety – and their driving record.
Too often, managers bypass storytelling altogether, taking a heavy-handed approach. But if you really want to influence people, try telling a good story instead.
Sean M. Lyden