Getting Buy-in: How Storytelling Can Help IT Leaders

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, March 24, 2014

One of the traits associated with data scientists — those techie, statistics geeks that are being hired en masse to handle big data — is “storytelling.” In fact, in one recent survey I conducted, storytelling was considered the primary skill expected of data scientists and analysts. Why? Because the volumes of data flowing into enterprises is bewildering and overwhelming to most people. Organizations need individuals who can not only find and pull out those nuggets of data that have some value to the business, but then be able to explain to the business why they should care about these data bits.

A new post at the Laserfiche site takes this idea a step further, proposing that IT leaders at levels become “storytellers.” This makes perfect sense, as they often are in the awkward position of asking their organizations to invest hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in new systems. A common complaint heard across the business world is the lack of clear return on investment (ROI) for technology investments, or even money spent on hardware and software that doesn’t even get used.

Storytelling is essentially sales and marketing cloaked in a more personable and less agenda-driven purpose. But the goals are the same: to convince buyers (in this case, enterprise decision-makers) why this particular solution is the best thing for them. And, unlike many sales and marketing engagements, the storytellers stay right with their charges, providing guidance and ongoing encouragement after the solution is put in place.

Often, a solution such as a new policy administration system gets rolled out, some training is provided, then the CIO retreats to his or her office, the CEO, CFO and CMO retreat to their respective offices and fiefdoms, and things roll along until the next round of budget requests.

An effective storyteller can provide insights on some of the following questions about technology:

  • Are we making the most of this technology?
  • What pieces of the solution are being underused? How can we put it to more use?
  • How can we better take advantage of underused or unused resources?
  • Are there approaches to getting at new data or functions that we haven’t thought of yet?
  • Are we asking the right questions to get at a solution?
  • What do end-user employees think about the solution? What ideas are they coming up with?

There's no special skill required to be storytellers — even though some people naturally have the gift of gab. It's simply a matter of listening and then reflecting those thoughts back to business audiences. 

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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Comments (2)

Andy beat me to the punch. Storytelling is a skill that some people have a knack for; others have to work at it and develop it. If you don't care for the term "storytelling", how about "effective communications skills?" Being able to effectively communicate with others is one of the most important skills one could develop, especially as one moves up in the organization. How many times have you seen one project chosen for funding or approval over another, even when the one chosen might have been inferior from a technology perspective? Many times that happens because the person that presented the winning project was able to communicate more effectively than the others. And there are many ways to improve one's ability to communicate. One that continue to pay dividends for me is the "Dale Carnegie Course." I have no relations to that course or organization other than I took the course back in the early '80s. It's probably helped my career more than any course than I've taken.

Posted by: jvercellino | March 24, 2014 3:35 PM

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Hi Joe, enjoyed the post and I'm with you on the storytelling thing! I've dedicated the last few years of my professional life in the UK to helping business people (especially technicians) to use a storytelling approach to communication. It's challenging but an extremely effective as a way of conveying complex ideas to non-experts. The one thing I do take issue with though is your contention that "There's no special skill required to be storytellers.." I agree in the sense that there's no barrier to entry or particular qualifications needed, but storytelling is an extremely skilful thing to do (well). If you Google search "David Cotton MojoLifetv" you should find a wonderful piece of storytelling where he describes a conversation with someone hoping to grow his business. He brings it to life and enacts the scene, beautifully done.

Posted by: AndyThorp | March 24, 2014 3:07 PM

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