Change and transition are frequently conflated, but they are distinct concepts. While change represents a specific moment in time, transition encompasses the process that occurs before, after, or concurrent with that change. Research shows that many corporate change initiatives have focused on outputs rather than long term benefits to employees, perhaps explaining a failure rate as high as 70%. Other commonly cited reasons for these failures include employee resistance and a lack of support from management. 

To prepare for change, companies should focus on leveraging their heritage and culture to communicate to teams effectively. Often, a company’s history can lend itself to a storytelling initiative that can provide rationale for the change or share precedents for how the company has successfully navigated change in the past.

Embracing Corporate Heritage Can Drive Successful Change and Fuel Smooth Transitions 

Companies often focus solely on the future, overlooking the potential strengths embedded in their pasts. In 1992, Sportswear giant Adidas faced record losses and near bankruptcy, prompting a need for change. During this turbulent period, Adidas lost sight of the capabilities that had previously fueled its success. However, the company later experienced a market resurgence by tapping into its heritage. 

Managers, innovators and designers delved into company history, discussed its relevance and decided what to keep and what to discard. Through a process that balanced continuity and change, they learned from past lessons while adapting to the evolving needs of athletes and consumers. 

Adidas’ comeback was driven by storytelling. The company began by interviewing senior managers, including longtime employees who could recall past challenges, and analyzed its published and archived materials. By rediscovering their company’s heritage and understanding what worked and what didn’t, leaders reincorporated core assumptions and values from the past into organizational culture, shaping strategic decisions. As Adidas discovered, the key to a history-driven turnaround lies not just in reconnecting with the past but also in using it effectively to meet future consumer needs.

Steps to Integrating your Company’s Heritage and Storytelling into Change Initiatives

In times of change, storytelling emerges as a powerful tool for guiding organizations through transitions and embracing change. Follow these steps to help integrate storytelling into your change initiatives: 

  1. Craft a compelling narrative: Develop a clear story that explains the purpose and vision behind the change you’re seeking, tethering it to themes of your organization’s past. 
  2. Use metaphors and analogies to illustrate the change: Paint a vivid picture of the change using analogies and metaphors that resonate with your organization’s culture, drawing from past examples of change.
  3. Articulate a persuasive mandate: Present a compelling case for the change, using storytelling to highlight its urgency and benefits. 
  4. Reinforce stability through transitions: Integrate stories of change from the past that convey stability and how your organization emerged on the other side.
  5. Connect to your values: Encourage the sharing of stories that reflect your company’s values and those who have demonstrated those values over the course of its history.

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Conclusion

Change management has become a central part of any good company’s structure due to the ever-evolving internal and external transitions that can arise. Leaders should consider company history as a pillar that can help reinforce company culture and mitigate the challenges that inevitably rise from change. A strong heritage—reinforced by effectively communicating through storytelling your company’s past instances of change, along with its purpose, vision and values—can serve as a foundation for current and future strategic direction. This approach can foster a deeper connection to your company’s mission and engage employees at all levels.

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