46: Narrative Coaching As A Pathway To Growth And Sustainable Change

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In this episode, Dr. David Drake explains what narrative coaching is, how he got started using this approach and why it works. He describes a powerful example of narrative coaching in action. He offers key HR takeaways from his research; experiences and work, and he shares a complimentary copy of his Guide to Technical Storytelling that HR Studio Podcast listeners won’t want to miss. Subscribers will receive an email with the link to download this guide. Non-subscribers can click here to join the HR Studio Podcast list. You'll receive a link to download David’s Guide with our email acknowledgment.
Narrative coaching is an approach to adult development connecting mindsets, behaviors, and environments that drive sustainable change. Dr. David Drake pioneered the approach and has trained 10,000 people across 14 countries. He has spent the last 30 years studying human dynamics and is focused on the areas of change and transitions. David has had many roles in this space including Executive Coach and Team and Organizational Development Consultant. He has authored over 40 publications, and his work has centered around enabling leaders and organizations to embrace change and engage in successful transitions. He has brought an incredible amount of intellect and energy to the field.
Listen (above) or watch the video (below) to catch Fred's interview with David. 

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • Career Background/Context. Over the course of his life and career, David realizes his interest in coaching originated within his own family where things that were important were not discussed. This ultimately drove his passion for how to help people liberate the stories they want to tell, to connect to each other, to understand their stories, and to move the whole community, whether it is a family, a team or an entire company into a new place. His deepest passion is the human heart, and so he tries to help organizations put the two worlds of thinking and feeling together.
  • How have organizations received this new, blended approach? Most organizations care more about whether they get good return training and coaching investment than the inputs or details. David has consulted in organizations where traditional leadership development or coaching programs have not yielded a return on the significant investments made. He suggests that when we impose a new language or structure on human beings, most of us resist, even if we like them.

    David and his team work with living stories, dealing with people as human beings and helping them improve what they already have rather than trying to impose something new on them. What people appreciate is that they can embed the approach in every single aspect of their business from Sales to Customer Experience to Onboarding to Leadership Development because it is a very simple, human process and does not contain a lot of fancy fads or fancy language.

  • Traditional methods that do not ‘stick’ or sustain. David led many training programs and likened trainees to passengers on a ship. Many were veterans who have seen programs come and go, and they try to take away a few tips. David was concerned by the waste of time and money which yielded only a few tips from an entire day. ‘It’s a day they will never get back.’ Even if it was a positive experience, he observed that it didn’t change attitudes or behaviors.

    David used some work from Paulo Freire (from Brazil) to flip that. Instead of David starting with his content and trying to change learners, he started with their stories asking, ‘How would you like that to be different?’ It became quite powerful for people because it signaled that while David knew a lot about this, he was not there to teach them anything. He was there to facilitate learners moving to a new level of awareness or capacity for themselves. David was focused on, ‘Do you have a better life? Do you run a better team? Is your business more successful?’ David shared that his concern was to start where learners were and not where he thought they should be. David tries to facilitate growth as opposed to making learners become something they are not.

  • Were people receptive? Employees liked it because they got to be involved in making their own workplace better. Leaders liked it because they were able to save budget and it yielded a tangible benefit.
  • David offered an example of this work with an organization. To preface, the developer of leadership programs at GE said ‘You should never send a changed person back into an unchanged environment.’ This was influential in David shaping his thinking, and he believes ‘You should never send an unchanged person back into a changing environment,’ because then they are just caught off guard and unprepared. This approach gets people involved in changing their own environment so it is more receptive to the changes they are trying to make to move forward as a company.

    David Drake Quote on HR Studio PodcastA bank CFO argued that while his organization is the financial brains behind the bank, no one listened to them because of their weak presentations. They don’t know how to talk to people easily, and they don’t know how to translate financial ‘gibberish’ into something people know what to do with. He wanted to take one of the programs and build on communicating with influence and customize it for the leadership team.

    David agreed as long as the participants all brought a presentation they were planning to give within the next 7-10 days, and he agreed to cut the program to one-half day. The focus was to ensure they had a ‘rock star’ presentation at the end of the program. At the end of the day, they had 30 people with amazing presentations. David and his team narrowed the focus down to something they cared about. Now the client has a template to use going forward.

  • What can HR leaders take away from this? There are three ways companies don’t handle change well:  
  1. Programs are geared towards the average person. They should use ‘exemplars’ as co-facilitators, mentors, and modelers ...... and tap their passion and skill.
  2. Communication flow. By shifting development from a cascade to campfires and conversations, communication can flow ‘up’ to leadership. Are employees and leaders having conversations?
  3. People are doing their best to just cope. How do we help people in being human to each other? How can we support people better? We want to turn employees from consumers of development to contributors to development.
  • What are people yearning for at work?  
  1. They want to feel like they belong so that they are part of something that matters.
  2. They want to believe and have faith, they want to know they are making a difference.
  3. They want to know how to behave, how they can be a better person at work and what is expected of them.
  4. They want to know what they are doing is going to improve their lives.
Dr. David Drake HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Dr. David Drake HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 8:00am
Fred Bunsa
Dr. David Drake
HR Studio Podcast