Change themes, stories and ‘sticky’ ideas

Getting your people to understand your business’s priorities and why they matter is vital if you are to achieve the results you need. But effectively communicating the importance of OKRs across an organisation can be difficult. 

Depending on an individual’s attitude to change and how long they’ve been in their role, employees can suffer from ‘initiative fatigue’ and so see OKRs as just the latest in a long line of leadership initiatives. Another set of targets to meet and tasks to complete on top of everything else that is expected of them. 

But nothing could be further from the truth.

“The first problem of communication is getting people's attention.”

For OKRs to be truly transformational leaders, managers and employees must challenge the status quo and change what they think and do. But that means ensuring everyone is on the same page, is aware of what is expected of them and is ready and willing to work together to make OKRs a success.

So what is the best way to get people’s attention and make OKRs resonate in a way your people understand and want to buy into?

A good place to start is by answering this question. Why OKRs and why now?

Change themes

Leaders looking to implement OKRs do so because they recognise the need for meaningful change. Articulating that need is the first step toward gaining clarity among your teams. In fact, it’s not unusual to find those who have been with the organisation for a while, already feel that change is overdue so are glad it’s on the agenda and welcome the opportunity to help shape it.

When discussing organisational change there are three questions that need to be answered:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How are we going to get there?

You may need to develop a new product or service in order to take advantage of a new market opportunity for example. Or perhaps your ambitious growth plans mean attracting, developing and retaining a talented workforce is a priority. It could be that your brand needs to resonate better with your target audiences or your sales and marketing efforts need to improve significantly. Whatever challenges you are facing, consider framing them in terms of ‘Change Themes’. These will provide you with context when creating your Objectives.


Using the challenges above Change Themes could be:

  • People
  • Product (or service)
  • Positioning
  • Value proposition
  • Deals

Under the ‘people’ Change Theme an Objective could be something like.

Become a talent magnet — a place where exceptional people want to work, develop and grow.

Or under ‘product and service’ an Objective could be:

Build an outstanding product — one that existing customers love and new customers flock to.



When communicating your vision (where you want to be) it’s important to frame this within a compelling narrative. Think about why you are doing this, why your people should care and what it will be like when you achieve your goals. Stories are what inspire people to act. Very few of us are inspired by contributing to growing revenue targets or increased shareholder value even though these may well be important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Human beings love stories. When we hear a story that resonates with us our level of a hormone called oxytocin increases. This boosts our feelings of trust and empathy which, in turn, helps us build connections with others and positively influences our social behaviour.

Neuroscientists at Princeton University discovered that when listening to a well-told story the same areas of the brain light up on MRI in both the storyteller and the listener, in other words your brain acts as if you are experiencing it for yourself. A well-told story cultivates an emotional connection and makes us feel part of

something bigger.

‘Sticky’ ideas

Another way of thinking about this is to think about Objectives as ‘sticky’ ideas.

As its name suggests a ‘sticky’ idea is one that sticks in the mind and is easy to recall. Sticky ideas unconsciously prime people to do things differently and provide them with a yardstick against which to check their plans and behaviour.

But what makes an idea sticky? And why do some ideas stick while others don’t?

Why do even the best ideas sometimes fail to resonate? While far less worthy ones, like rumours and urban myths spread like wildfire?

In their book ‘Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck’

Chip and Dan Heath, one a professor at Stanford School of Business and the other a senior fellow at Duke University, explain why some ideas spread, while others wither on the vine.

Stating that, for an idea to be sticky, it must be understood, remembered and change something.

When man first landed on the moon in 1969 and Neil Armstrong took his “One giant leap for mankind” it was the culmination of a process that began some eight or so years earlier when an inspirational leader lit the imagination of a nation and aligned the 400,000 employees of NASA behind a single objective.

JFK’s 1961 moonshot objective “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

Legend has it that on a visit to NASA in the 1960s, the President came across a janitor mopping the floors and asked him why he was working so late. “Mr President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Whether that story is true or not. It is true to say that every NASA employee from astronauts to interns were singularly focused. That’s the power of a sticky idea.

“Even people who were quite far removed from the famous goal of landing a man on the moon reported feeling an incredible connection to this ultimate goal”  Andrew Carlton, Professor of Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

The Heath brothers conclude that all sticky ideas have six traits in common. They call this the SUCCESs model and it states for an idea to be sticky it must be:

Simple – Get to the essence of the message

Unexpected – Get attention by being unexpected

Concrete – Be descriptive (not abstract) and help paint a mental picture

Credible – Gain credibility from vivid details or an outside authority

Emotional – People care about people. What’s in it for me, us and others?

Stories – Stories drive action through simulated experience (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it)

How you frame the ‘why’ of OKRs is vital if you are to inspire people to want to get involved. Using change themes, stories and sticky ideas can help you simplify your challenges and make your Objectives more memorable. Helping you communicate how and where everyone involved can make a meaningful contribution to the positive change you all want to see.

Scroll to Top