National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

How to Change the Workforce, 1 Heart at a Time

A business manager asks why his employees don’t respond to facts and figures, only emotion. Dave Durand answers by pointing out the power of Christ’s parables.


November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM


I manage a division for a substantial company, and we are in desperate need of making some pretty big changes. The objective data show that we need to move in a certain direction but, for some reason, I can’t seem to inspire buy-in no matter how many reports I show my team. Do you have any suggestions to get the ball rolling?

Inspiring change is a perpetual leadership challenge. By presenting solid data, you have taken the logical approach to stimulating action. But using data to inspire change will only work with people who have a logical temperament. That leaves about 75% of your team feeling uninspired.

Many business researchers have discovered that, although data is important for leaders to determine their direction, it is not very useful for motivating people until you move their hearts. Even though your question falls under the banner of a business-management dilemma, we can glean a lesson from the Gospel. Jesus carried the greatest burden of inspiring change that anyone in the world has ever faced and he accomplished that task, in part, by telling stories.

He inspired his followers with parables that fulfilled basic logical requirements but went much further, inspiring emotional responses on several levels. One great example was the parable of the talents. The story has objective examples about risk and reward, but those are trumped by the powerful imagery of the master taking away all that the unfaithful servant had and then casting him out while the faithful servant received more than he earned from his own merit. To this day, this story moves people emotionally and logically.

In fact, appealing to emotions is so powerful that it can inspire people to actually work in a direction that is contrary to logic. In the run-up to the recent elections, the actor Michael J. Fox pleaded for votes on behalf of candidates who support government funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease quite visibly, admitted that he intentionally did not take his medication before he recorded his appeals. This made his spasms all the more dramatic — and heart-wrenching.

Fox knew the emotional impact on viewers would be much stronger if they saw him suffering. Never mind that, to date, embryonic stem-cell research has fallen flat in producing good clinical outcomes while adult stem cells have shown real promise. Obviously sharing the objective truth about stem-cell results would not have advanced his desire to use embryos. To make up for that, Fox appealed to emotions. As evidenced by the results — particularly in Missouri, where embryonic stem-cell research was okayed to much fanfare — the ad campaign was very effective.

Imagine how much more you could manage to inspire people knowing that you are pointing them in a direction that is consistent with logical analysis and objective data.

This can be done by using imagery and personal stories to set the stage.

In your next meeting, talk about how the poor results affect people on a personal level and how great the staff will feel after the changes take place. Put a face on the cause and turn the future success of the division into a story about the people who make that change happen.

You may have heard the saying that, if you change people’s hearts, you can change the world. That is as true about the biggest issues in life as it is about smaller issues in the workplace.

Dave Durand is online at