Leaders’ Use of Stories to Shift Organizational Culture
Have you ever wondered how leaders transmit organizational culture? A big way is through story telling. Believe it or now, leaders have the power to transform their organizations and inspire their followers by using personal and organizational stories as a tool to transmit a sustainable vision of the future or to promote a new culture-shift.
I remember a time when a client told me about a huge snowstorm that crippled their city. This particular client was in the business of providing job placements for people with developmental disabilities and they had just placed their first client with a local courthouse. The client was unable to get to work in the storm and the Executive Director was worried that they might lose the contract so she went down to the courthouse and cleaned the cells herself. She wanted the courthouse staff to know that they could depend on the people my client placed. That everyone on her team was a team player. That story circulated for years. If the Executive Director could clean jail cells then there wasn’t any task too dirty or menial for the rest of the staff.
Story telling is an important form of communication as it promotes the sense-making process and initiates learning. People naturally communicate through stories and use stories as a tool to structure and categorize their experiences. Stephen Denning, in his work on story telling, identifies eight unique narrative patterns that leaders can use to communicate and/or transform their organization’s culture. He believes that conventional command and control practices are counter-productive and do not adequately communicate to employees’ new goals or expected changes in behavior. Denning advocates, instead, for stories that:
- Ignite action (act as a springboard and incite a change in behavior or direction);
- Communicate one’s essence or character;
- Transmit organizational or personal values;
- Define a corporate brand;
- Foster collaboration and teamwork;
- Tame the “grapevine” (address rumors);
- Share institutional or organizational knowledge; or
- Lead people into the future by creating a vision for change.
Do you have organization stories that you tell at your company?