The Mindful Leadership Blog

Just In! Your stories shape your culture

September 19th, 2019

What’s hot? 

The concept of culture is hot. At its simplest, culture is a description of the behaviors, norms, beliefs and symbols that characterize a group of people. Organizational culture communicates what’s important and how to behave and respond.

So what?  

Culture shapes people’s beliefs about the future, responses to change, and proclivity toward things like innovation, risk taking, and service. Organization culture is often an unseen, unspoken and unnoticed, yet significant, force that has a strong influence on organizational strategy, plans and activities.  It communicates how people relate, what people are to expect, and how people are to behave. Understanding your culture gives insight to many organizational aspects such as why change is so hard, why leaders are seen and perceived the way they are, and how people are treated, just to name a few. 

What to do?       

A sociologist can spend years studying your culture in order to bring the unknown and unseen to light.  You can get a greater understanding and begin working with your culture by doing the following:

  1. Examine your corporate stories.
    1. Identify the stories told and re-told within your organization (one of the tools sociologists use).
    2. Check those stories against seven common stories noted in a recent Forbes blog.* Those stories are:
  • Can the little person rise to the top?
  • Is the big boss human?
  • Will I get fired?
  • Will the organization help me when I have to move?
  • How will the boss react to a mistake?
  • How will the organization deal with rule-breaking?
  • How will the organization react to obstacles?
    1. If your stories don’t convey messages like the ones above, identify the main messages they do convey.
    2. Not happy with what you uncover? Our experience shows that stories are long lasting.  The not-so-hot ones take on a life of their own (the snowball effect, they grow bigger and more incredulous over time).
  1. Follow this simple process to start to shape/shift the culture. Engage your leadership team in the following:
    1. Use your stories as a baseline. Examine their themes and determine which messages you want to start, stop and continue.
    2. Do a mind map of the ideal culture. Write down every descriptive word that comes to mind.  Distill it into key themes.  Describe each theme in a brief, compelling statement.
    3. Identify stories that illustrate the desired cultural themes.
    4. Challenge the team to do four things:
  • Use the stories identified to talk about the ideal culture with their teams.
  • Take specific, observable actions that demonstrate they are aligned with the preferred culture.
  • Report progress to the other members of the group on a monthly basis.
  • Stick with it. It takes time and persistence!

Our experience shows that well-crafted and culturally sensitive leadership development efforts can have a significant impact on culture.  Want to learn more?  Contact us.

#takecharge #culture #strategicleadership

















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