From time to time I run a workshop where I ask people to draw a three panel comic strip about a problem they are struggling with. We are not trying to solve anything with this exercise – only describe the problem and its impact.

This is how it works:

First panel:  The Goal! Where we want to go
Second panel: But! The obstacle standing in the way of you/your organisation reaching its goal
Third panel: And so.. The end result of you not reaching the goal – the impact of the problem.

comic strip on diversity in recruitmentA workshop participant’s take on their company’s approach to diversity in recruitment.

The end result hammers home the IMPACT of a problem that is blocking the bigger goal (for example the goal of the change programme you’re involved in).

You can do this exercise with senior managers, with employees, with your team members. At different levels it can reveal different things.

It reveals the culture…

Interestingly it can also reveal the culture of the organisation.. in a deceptively casual, non-threatening way. So if you are wondering how to find out what exactly is standing in the way of the change programme this exercise can reveal some of the Whys behind why things are not moving.

“Do you understand what I’m going through?”

When you do a “pain comics”exercise with frontline people they feel they’ve been listened to. They get to describe the pain they are experiencing – a rare treat. With this exercise (and by using these comics as a basis for change communication pieces) you acknowledge the pain they are experiencing. After that you are more likely to get them on your side – and rally them around the goals you are setting. But without this crucial first step you get resentment and cynicism. So please don’t ignore it.

And makes the issue at hand into a story!

What we’ve also done here is add a narrative. The story format helps the information to stick in people’s brains. It also puts people in a different mode for receiving information. A story suspends disbelief and helps open up your mind for new ways of thinking.

“If you give people facts without a story, they will explain it within their existing belief system.
The best way to promote a new or different belief is not with facts, but with a story”.

- Dave Gray

A comic strip is the opposite of business as usual communication

For many years now I’ve suggested  that people who genuinely care about engagement let go of the official polished PowerPoint decks and create communication that acknowledges pain – both the business pain (the driver for change) AND the pain staff are experiencing. And by engagement I mean when you really, really, really want people to contribute and take ownership of the change. This is not tick box communication.

Added bonus: it’s a lot less threatening than an official PowerPoint presentation. Yes, corporate presentations can appear a bit intimidating in their slickness and officialness…

An example of Why (pain) oriented change communication: the why behind a digital workplace at a global non-governmental organisation (animation).

Comic strips are easy to create in a workshop

the power of comic strips

Comics are powerful. They capture key ideas succinctly and grab people’s attention. And they can be fast to produce in a workshop context – even (and perhaps especially!) by people who say they can’t draw. While the comics produced at a workshop aren’t usually high art you can always hire someone to produce more visually appealing versions (just don’t make them look too fancy – there is a reason why change communication often needs to look a bit rough!)

If you have several you can put them together into a booklet – perhaps even forming part of an employee handbook.
The kind people actually want to read.

Interested in a workshop for your organisation?

Or a talk and a mini workshop on the power of comics? Drop me a line at virpi(at) (or a tweet). Talks and mini workshops can be done online, but long form workshop have to be face to face. I’m based in London, UK but happy to travel.

Good write-ups of my workshop from people who’ve tried and lived to tell the tale:

Use pictures to explain culture change” by change management consultant Melanie Franklin and
Illustrating Change – Complexity and Simplicity in Unison” by Ketan Patel of the Change Management Institute in London.



PS. And the logical next step after a workshop focusing on the blockers is to then draw the solutions! Here is a story about a big insurance firm that wanted their actuaries to help with sales. We collected anecdotes from staff and those into comic strips: check out my “behaviour change through comics” story.