Robert Galvin, former CEO of Motorola, once said he used to listen into daily life and conversations at Motorola as if they were a symphony. Entering the building, he would aim to understand how the musical masterpiece unfolded around him, noting the dissonances and the harmonies.
As this example from a late leader shows, capturing an organization’s on-going story-telling and story-performing dynamics is a powerful way of tuning into the pulse of your organization, its current climate and its overall culture.
While most organizational life is planned and regulated, the stories the organization members tell each other remain widely uncontrollable. They know no hierarchy or status. Such stories effortlessly infiltrate the entire organization and shape it, just as much as the conversations in turn shape the people, their mindset and their behavior.
Robert Galvin understood the essence of this important “noise” in the organization and that the benefit of listening into storytelling does not lie in its factual content. What makes the analysis of organizational storytelling precious is what the stories reveal about how the members of the organization structure their experiences and their perception of reality.
What can serve as an important climate indicator during regular times, becomes an even more important indicator during times of organizational change. Listening for the dissonances and harmonies within your organization can help you evaluate and address questions like:
- What is the overall tone in the organization?
- Are there notable levels of negativity, bitterness, stress?
- Which groups are telling stories about who or what? And how?
- Do these stories reflect success or failure; is their aim to include or to exclude; do they dwell in the past a lot or do they project a common future?
- What metaphors are being used?
- Are there story alliances developing and if so, whom or what are they forming around?
- What is your own role in the story-telling and story-performance?
- How do you shape your own language, communication and stories?
- Has your own style or that of your peers or superiors changed over the various phases of the change process?
- What effect might this have on others?
This article is a pledge to take a narrative perspective on organizational dynamics during times of change. Take a new look at your organization and what is going on around you. Take a very subjective view that refrains from judgement. Remember, when looking at these dynamics, we are not aiming to spy on people or identify the content of the story or organizations. Like Robert Galvin, we are listening for the undertones and the overall “feel” of things.
To demonstrate how little content really plays a role, I would invite you to particularly get in touch with one of the most important organizational stories: The story that is not told.
- Whose voice is forgotten? Whose story not heard?
- Who has an interest in not hearing these stories?
- Are there active tendencies to silence such voices and stories, or is it pure negligence?
- Which stories are told to cover up the untold story?
- Which stories make you feel systematically uncomfortable and why?
- What effect does that have on you and others?
By including questions like these in our reflection repertoire, we gain a much broader picture of the dynamics affecting our organization and the change process we are part of. We also gain a much better understanding of the part we play in the negative, neutral or positive vibes that spread throughout the organization and how they shape it in either desired or undesired ways. As a result, we can take a much more active role in spreading the vibes that we want to see in our organizations and around us.
Erika Jacobi is the President of LC GLOBAL Consulting Inc. LC GLOBAL® leads people and organizations through important change and innovation processes to pave the way for unique transformation and sustainable growth. For more information visit www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on Youtube at http://bit.ly/1CPbMQ5.