Every organisation has its own culture and trying to change it is difficult. You can’t just issue a directive; people will stay in their comfortable, safe and established culture until there’s a good reason to move.
How can you shape that culture so it’s constructive and well-positioned to support your business into the future?
You tap into the tool which helps spread your culture – storytelling.
Culture is built on communication.
Let me ask you to think back to when you joined your current organisation. How did you learn what was acceptable and what wasn’t’? How did you learn how to fit in? You did it by watching how people acted and by listening to what was being said. That tells us that communication is a key part of culture. People will behave in the way they’ve been taught and most of the lessons come from the stories their teammates tell.
You know what I mean… chats over coffee, the ‘water-cooler’ meetings, the ‘have you heard’ conversations.
We can talk all we like about visions and values, but while those thoughts might rumble along deep inside our people, it’s the stories they hear which they will remember.
Do you know what stories are being told in your business? You should; it’s your job to create the stories you want told.
1. Culture is built through stories.
The first point I want to make is that stories matter more than facts. People don’t recall facts easily because it only engages the logical brain. If you want to create change or shape a culture, you need to trigger the emotions. Stories have the power to do that. A really good story engages the heart and the mind, so people live it as it’s told. If you can tell a great story which holds within it the values you want to inspire in your people, you can transform a culture.
I read a great article recently which told the story of the penguins and the elephants and was used to show company values. Penguins don’t take care of their sick; they pick on the weak and injured. Elephants, on the other hand, nurture their sick and take care of their tribes. This is a wonderful story because it’s vivid and it provokes an emotional response. Which would you rather be – a penguin or an elephant?
Now, take that story and weave it into all your internal communications, tell success stories of people who’ve been the elephant for their team, and keep referring to the wonderful elephant behaviour in your organisation.
2. Don’t just talk about it.
It’s not only the words which matter. Telling stories isn’t enough.; you must act on it and live it every day. The company who talked about penguins and elephants failed because they didn’t act like elephants and their people knew it. It was nothing than a tall tale.
Culture change starts with you. You’re the translator, taking the story and making it real. You must act on your story to prove it’s more than words. As you model the values, your people will follow and soon they’ll have their own stories to align with yours. This is how the legend shapes and your culture evolves.
People use stories to illustrate things, share values, establish connections and common ground, and to help make sense of the world. They are powerful and have a direct influence on our beliefs and behaviours. A great organisational story will unite people as much as a flag or anthem can do, but to make that happen, you need to live it and act on it in the workplace.
Do you have a story which reflects your brand values?