by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

When it comes to profits and loss, data matters. But in the rarefied air of executive decision making, if the organization is profitable, most all other decisions — especially the soft stuff like wellness — are based on instinct, feel, and emotion.

“But our management wants data!” Baloney. If the company is hitting its numbers and the stock price is going up, no one cares whether you’re at 90% or 50% participation (however you define it) or whether your ROI is 3:1 or 1:1. Management wants to feel good about the wellness program and what it’s doing for the organization, to be sure, but getting them to that point has less to do with actuaries than it does with storytelling. Here’s why: Beneath the veneer of a button-down corporate leader’s $2000 suit beats the heart of a person with the same aspirations and fears as you. Maybe they’re wrapped in an outsized ego driven by different career goals, but we all are striving for meaning, purpose, and some degree of happiness.

Meaning, purpose, and happiness aren’t conveyed through a spreadsheet. But well told stories like these get the point across: the 20-year engineer whose diabetes was controlled and life changed by your health coaching program; the first-year MBA in your marketing department who chose to come work for you over the competition because of the value this organization places on employee well-being; or the lab technician whose family has reconnected over healthy meals because of their participation in your healthy families program. Compelling wellness stories are data with a soul.

If you want to influence management decisions about wellness, you have to appeal to emotions — that place where people have a “gut feel” that this is the right thing to do for employees and the organization — and that’s done with stories. Data has its place, but as a story’s setup or footnote, not the central theme. 

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