Filed in Business storytelling, Communication, Corporate Storytelling, Culture
You’ve probably heard that in order to transform your culture you need to change the stories you tell.
On the surface that statement might feel true but may not immediately be clear how it works.
Let me share an example that’s happening close to home, within Anecdote. We recently added two new company values. I’d like to detail the journey that we’re going on, which maps roughly to these 5 stages:
- Have an intention or goal; know how you want to transform.
- Find concrete examples of what the final state could look like.
- Share those examples regularly to seed the change.
- Look for examples of the adoption of the change happening within the organisation, no matter how small or clumsy.
- Share those examples of internal change to champion the direction things are going in and keep the transformational agenda top of mind for everyone.
And rinse and repeat.
Stage 1 – Intention
At the start of December 2022, we met in a room at the Royal Society in Melbourne to refresh our strategy. Six of us were there in person, with two of our people dialling in from the Philippines.
On day two, we put our values on the wall and talked through whether they were still relevant and whether anything was missing. After some discussion, we agreed to add two new ones.
Our first new value is “Say what you feel, share what you know.”
We added this value because many of us in the organisation tend to withhold (myself included). Historically, we have avoided conversations that might be sensitive or difficult. We wanted to be more open with each other because we believe we’ll all have a better time at work and that our ideas and business will get stronger, faster.
The second addition is “We transform ourselves to transform others.”
This value is aspirational. We know that we want to have a greater transformational impact on our customers, but that requires us to build keen self-awareness around our internal behaviour and understand what we need to change first in how we work to enable that in others.
Stage 2 – Find Concrete Examples
So at the end of our strategy session, we had these two new values written up on butcher’s paper. We felt good about them. But what now? How do we start using these values?
Let’s go back to the cliché I shared at the top. What new stories do we need to begin to tell?
We needed to have a shared understanding of what our new world would look like. What would we see, say, hear, do and feel that we hadn’t previously? The stories we were looking for were examples of these values in action, perhaps in other organisations, on a sports field, or in our personal lives. These examples would lift the abstract words off the butcher’s paper and challenge us into action.
We didn’t have to look far for an example. One of our people went through a remarkable transformational journey last year, replete with all the painful awareness-building and self-discovery that follows. It has left him a calmer, clearer, focused and happier person, which (as we had all noticed) resulted in better working relationships. This example was the value of ‘transforming oneself in order to transform others’ in action.
He generously shared details of his journey in the week following our strategy meeting, not just to demonstrate that transformation was possible but also to break down the stages he had experienced so that we could consider how those stages might map onto Anecdote.
Stages 3, 4 and 5 – Finding and Sharing
Sourcing these examples is one step, but they have to be heard by everyone in the organisation. For Anecdote, there is a clear place for us where this happens: our weekly team meeting every Wednesday morning on Zoom. We always nominate one person to share a story in our next weekly meeting.
We agreed that every story shared in the first quarter of 2023 should be an example of our values in action, whether personal or seen within our organisation or somewhere else. In order to champion the intention we set for ourselves, we prioritise internal stories.
Two weeks ago, our CEO opened the meeting with the story of when he and someone else in our org had an open conversation about a topic that previously we would have just avoided. He shared the details of the conversation, and we could all celebrate that it was a sign of progress.
Not only did he tell the story, but we broke it down afterwards. What did we like about what happened? What room to grow was there? How did that story represent our values? And what specific behaviours of the people in the story might be behaviours that we want to adopt wider?
What I’ve seen is a two-fold impact. First, by sharing and breaking down the stories, we begin to build a collective understanding of what ‘good’ looks like with these new values. Secondly, it keeps them front of mind. With everyone having a chance to tell a story, it makes the journey of adoption inclusive.
Another saying goes, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
Changing the themes of the stories that are told in an organisation to match the transformational agenda gives everyone a shared picture of where things are heading.
To bring about real change, people must choose to do something different. While discovering and sharing stories does not guarantee this shift, it is unlikely that any meaningful change will occur if the stories that are shared stay the same.
This process is working for us, and (I’m sure it’s no surprise) this is the transformational work we love doing with our customers.
About Rob Grundel
Rob Grundel is a Principal at Anecdote International. He has coached individual leaders and facilitated rooms around the world for companies like Capco, Siemens and Mastercard. He has helped craft keynotes, strategies, change narratives and ways of working. At the heart of all this work is finding the shared story in the room. Rob is also a musician and producer. He is based near Melbourne in Australia.