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Archive for March, 2011


Once upon a time. . .

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Changing (or enhancing) your corporate culture is never easy. Organizations large and small have deeply rooted values and behaviors that aren’t easily modified – and no retreat or new vision statement can create change overnight. Having been thru plenty of retreats, I think that’s probably a good thing!

I had reason to research corporate change recently and was struck by how many articles referenced corporate storytelling as a dominant influence on an organization’s culture. Stories, past and present, play an integral role in forming the employee belief structure and many model their behavior based on what they hear others are doing. After giving this some thought, I believe many stories that have been passed around my organization for years have significantly impacted our own culture.

For example, one very senior member of our team was known for what might be considered a quirky habit of straightening pictures. There are many many stories about him being in a meeting, standing up while talking, and walking across the room to fix a picture frame which had somehow become askew. The stories aren’t making fun of him, they are simply reinforcing his belief that everything should be perfect. He had amazing attention to detail and we all knew it. We talked about it, we even joked about it, but we also modified our behavior because we knew that level of detail was expected of us as well. Those stories, which are still shared today, continue to shape our organization several years after his retirement.

Another example involves a vendor we often use for direct mail. In the midst of a crisis (or what seemed like a crisis at the time) we needed some live samples of a recent mailing and couldn’t find any in our files. He offered to FedEX them overnight, but we needed them that day. Without hesitation, he said he’d be in our offices in an hour. He grabbed a handful, jumped in his car, and drove 60+ miles to make sure we had what we needed. This was the owner of the company himself – he valued us as customers and friends and he wanted to help. We tell that story to others, we still use his services, and I’d bet we’ve helped him get new business as a result. More importantly, his employees probably saw his behavior too, and telling that story around the office likely helps him create a culture of exemplary customer service valued by each and every member of his team.

What stories do you hear around YOUR office? About you or your team? You can’t force an organization to do much of anything – and you can’t force change via storytelling. It just happens over time.  You can, however, pay more attention to what stories you hear around the office and think about how each story might impact the organization in the future.  Doing good work and acting in a way that creates the stories that lead to positive change can make quite a difference.  And it’s a lot more fun than trying to create that same change with a fancy new vision statement nobody reads anyway!

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