Stories&Culture

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Stories&Culture

  1. 1. CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? CRA IG WOR TMANN What i s “ culture?” A quick check of the dictionary yields no less than 12 different definitions of “culture,” ranging across the arts, anthropology, biology, education, and sociology. Here are my two favorites: cul • ture [kuhl-cher] i Table of contents 1. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: What is “culture?”…………………….1 the youth culture; the drug culture. Do cultures actually change?............2 2. the development or improvement of the mind by education or training. Can stories change a culture?..........3 Stories – into the bloodstream...……7 Telling stories verbally……………….7 So it seems fair to say that in an organizational context, culture is the “behaviors and Telling stories digitally……………….9 beliefs characteristic of a particular organization.” These behaviors and beliefs emerge Additional resources………………..13 over time, usually as a result of a strong Founder or CEO’s influence (think “Microsoft,” My Thoughts and Ideas……………15 “GE,” and “IBM”), a “near-death” experience (think “AT&T”), a positive customer reaction to the business model (think “Dell,” “FedEx,” and “McDonalds”), or a particular work ethic (think “Accenture”). Many company cultures have been shaped by a combination of these forces. Like a virus, these “behaviors and beliefs” infect every aspect of the business, from hiring practices to corporate governance. J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 1
  2. 2. A strong corporate culture is a powerful thing. I remember joining IBM as a brand new professional, and it didn’t take long for me to “turn blue” with company pride. Culture sets the rules, manages the players, and doles out the consequences. Culture defines the very game itself. But what happens when significant change is introduced into this system? Like a new organ being introduced to a human body, strong drugs must accompany this change lest the body reject it! Do cul tur es actual ly change? Cultures do change. Slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, attitudes and beliefs shift away from what were once non-negotiable certainties toward a completely new way of looking at things. On a broad social level, consider how attitudes and beliefs towards slavery and civil rights have changed. On an economic level, look at attitudes towards globalization and shifting work around the world. On an organizational level, look at how we have changed our attitudes towards how and where the work gets done. On an individual level, look at how we have changed the tools we use to get the job done. [Look at something as simple as the dress code! As an IBMer, I was required to wear white shirts, suits, and ties every day of the week. This was not up for negotiation…until it was.] J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 2
  3. 3. These changes in attitudes and beliefs, of course, happen over time. And they happen in fits and starts…it is rarely a clear, straight path to a new understanding. But change does happen. Can stori es change a cultur e? “A story has shape, outline, and limits, whereas an experience blurs at the edges.” Yes. Stories are the most powerful way to change a culture. Since the building blocks of — Robert Fulford culture are “behaviors” and “beliefs,” these must be addressed head-on in order for change to take hold. One mistake that leaders make repeatedly is that we over-rely on facts to tell people what’s changed, as if a clearer understanding of the facts will suddenly affect their behavior. This approach doesn’t work any better than relying on the facts to tell people that smoking will kill them. J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 3
  4. 4. “Our main finding, put simply, is that We don’t change peoples’ behaviors and beliefs by saying to them; “Well, as a health the central issue is never strategy, insurance company, we used to be about paying claims for sick people, but now we are about structure, culture, or systems. All helping people live healthier lives.” Instead, we tell stories about how one of our Customer those elements, and others, are important. But the core of the Representatives used claims history to notice that a woman’s child was showing the matter is always about changing early warning signs of diabetes and provided her with information that helped her son the behavior of people, and avoid spiraling into the disease. behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings. This We don’t say; “Hey, let’s not be an airline that just transports people from place to place, but is true even in organizations that are let’s have fun. Yeah, that’s right…go have some fun.” Instead, we create and tell stories of very focused on analysis and what this looks like when it’s happening, from the CEO riding his motorcycle into quantitative measurement, even among people who think of corporate headquarters to the flight attendants cracking jokes during their safety themselves as smart in an M.B.A. demonstrations. sense. In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to Stories are sticky. Because stories are character-driven, people can easily relate the help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence action of a story to their own context. Unlike bullet points on slides and in emails, emotions, not just thought. stories do a number of things well that help people better understand not just the “what,” Feelings then alter behavior but the “how” and “why.” The how and the why are the only things that help people sufficiently to overcome all the many barriers to sensible large-scale change their behaviors. We can tell people what to do until we are blue in the face, but change.” only until we engage them in the how and why do we have a chance of impacting their beliefs. — John Kotter, author of The Heart of Change In Corporate America, it’s now official - people are bulletproof. We all have so much information coming at us all the time, that we’ve learned how to tune out most of it. We even tune out emails from our senior executives exhorting us to do this or that. Bullet points bounce off of us like the never-ending stream of “headlines” running at the bottom of our TV screens, rarely sticking long enough to register in our consciousness. So, how do stories change a culture? Stories “add back” context. When we show people slides with bullet points on them, what we are actually showing them is a lot of rich information that has been stripped down to its bare minimum for expediency’s sake. It’s like if I say “Just treat our customers J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 4
  5. 5. with more empathy” instead of telling the rich story about how we received a letter of thanks from a customer after one of our call center representatives showed true concern for a child’s broken arm. We can’t assume that people know these stories and context. Stories carry success and failure. A story lets listeners/viewers “see” the differences between success and failure, and the behaviors that lead to both. Upon hearing a story, people often identify on some level with the characters leading the action and they acknowledge that they too have been in the same situations. Thus, a story helps to put the listener in the center of the problem. Stories help us reflect and learn. Just like the “zig-zag” bridge in any Japanese garden, a story slows us down just long enough to take in what’s around us. Whereas bits and bullets fly by us and bounce off us without even being noticed, a story helps us look around and see multiple perspectives and ways of dealing with issues. Stories influence. A story doesn’t “tell you what to do,” but rather lets you draw your A “zig-zag” bridge own conclusions. In that way, stories influence us to create the right kinds of behavior. Annette Simmons says it best; “The power to influence is often associated with force, the ability to make someone do what you want them to do. That suggests a push strategy. However, story is a pull strategy – more like a powerful magnet than a bulldozer.” The figure below illustrates how stories bring the critical context back to information: J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 5
  6. 6. Stripping away the most important “context” and leaving only the bullet points These powerful aspects of stories draw on both our intellect and our emotions to help us imagine the changes that need to be made, and to “see” ourselves as part of that process. With leadership and proper reinforcement over time, the culture begins to change. J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 6
  7. 7. Stor ies – i nto the bl oodstream In order for stories to impact a culture, they must first get “into the bloodstream.” There are two main ways that stories are communicated into organizations: verbally and digitally. Telling stories verbally Leaders in organizations often tell stories, especially when the pace of change is accelerating (i.e. most organizations). They tell stories when they create strategy and when introduce a new product. But often, the only audience receiving these stories is their immediate peers. As leaders, we need better ways of making sure we are telling the right stories that animate the change we are trying to drive. When it comes to telling stories verbally, the Story Matrix and Story Coach (shown on pages 8 and 9) have been helpful tools for leaders to capture and tell the right stories at the right times. The Story Matrix The Story Matrix is a simple tool that is designed to capture the stories that will most impact performance. The purpose of the Story Matrix is to give leaders ready access to their own stories, such that they can more be deliberate about weaving those stories into their communications. Stories are like the water table. They The vertical axis represents stories about successes, failures, fun and legends (timeless always exist just under the surface and all we need to do is tap them and business artifacts, such as stories about Henry Ford, Jack Welch or Herb Kelleher). The drink from them. categories are meant to allow leaders to choose the most appropriate story, based on whether they are motivating a team or an individual, providing corrective feedback or just having some fun. J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 7
  8. 8. The categories on the horizontal axis may change depending on the type of leader. These categories represent the areas or groups that a leader most has to influence. When the Story Matrix is filled in, it becomes a dynamic tool that leaders can use to have a greater impact with their communications. “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be distilled.” — Raymond Chandler Story Matrix of a Senior Leader who needs to exert influence on broad categories across the whole organization (i.e. “leadership” and “execution”) J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 8
  9. 9. The Story Coach The Story Coach helps leaders apply the stories they have captured to different performance challenges. The figure below outlines the I.G.N.I.T.E. elements of the Story Coach. The Story Coach is a tool that helps leaders ensure their stories ignite action Telling stories digitally When a story or set of stories needs to reach large numbers of people, leaders must rely on digital means to get their stories told. Organizations have a myriad of communications tools available to them – emails, presentations, newsletters, and portals. While accessible and quick, these familiar methods only communicate the “what” and they fail to deliver on the “how” and “why.” Just like using a high-powered computer as a mere calculator, we often strip down our communications to accommodate the delivery vehicles that are expedient. Innovative leaders are just beginning to use digital delivery vehicles to broadcast their stories widely into (and outside of) their organizations. Two story-based solutions that J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 9
  10. 10. leaders are using to push stories out into their organizations are eScenes™ and Scenarios™. Scene 2 of 6 in an eScene series on Decision-making eScenes™ eScenes are short story “trailers,” like movie trailers, that cut through the noise in organizations to reach people with a sticky story about them. Each scene is delivered via email on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis in order to communicate a new sales strategy, an important win, a transformational effort, etc. eScenes are most often used to support a large cultural change and communicate progress over time. J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 10
  11. 11. A scene of a Scenario on Leading through Change Scenarios™ Scenarios are organization-specific stories that take a deeper look at a performance challenge and often involve the audience in problem-solving. These stories unfold over a week or two and tackle challenges as diverse as how the capital markets work, disaster-readiness, successful leadership, and smoking prevention. When leaders “push” stories out into the organization both verbally and digitally, an interesting phenomenon occurs. What begins as a “push” strategy is transformed into a “pull” strategy by the viral nature of stories. Once in the bloodstream, the stories are shaped, embellished, retold, and thereby gain momentum. Just like great new ideas and technologies, these stories slowly change the culture as they move through the organization.… - Craig J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 11
  12. 12. For more information about the power of stories, contact: Craig Wortmann craig@craigwortmann.com J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 12
  13. 13. Addi ti onal resources Recommended reading list: The Story Factor By Annette Simmons ISBN: 0738206717 Information Anxiety 2 By Richard Saul Wurman ISBN: 0789724103 J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 13
  14. 14. What’s Your Story? By Craig Wortmann ISBN: 1419535560 Research on “story:” There are a number of sources I used to gain insights into why stories work so well. I have listed them here for those of you who want to dig a little deeper for a “research” foundation: - Joseph Campbell discusses the connections that stories make in his book/CD “The Power of Myth” - Robert Fulford discusses research and how stories affect people in his Canadian Broadcasting Company Lecture Series called “The Triumph of Narrative” - George Lakoff and Mark Johnson cover how metaphors and language choices work in their book “Metaphors We Live By” (beware…this book is very dense and written for an academic audience) - Daniel Pink has recently written a fantastic book “A Whole New Mind” on right-brain vs. left-brain cognition and why stories are so critical J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 14
  15. 15. My Thoughts and Ideas i Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House Inc., 2006. J C. WORTMANN / CAN STORIES CHANGE A CULTURE? / © 2007 PAGE 15

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