Audio Blog: Stories At Work
At some point, we are going to do a couple of podcasts, perhaps 10, 20, 30, I don't know, regarding culture in the workplace. A big part of culture at the workplace is stories we tell one another.
I read a "Harvard Business Review article" a while ago, it may have been over a year ago, in which companies were decrying the fact that employees weren't speaking up. They weren't responding to requests for information or feedback about how things are going.
And the article basically says, "Sometimes employees fear speaking up because there is a perception, maybe not reality, but there is a perception that the organization, managers in particular, were genuinely hostile about past suggestions or recommendations for change, which imply that something is wrong."
And basically, they held back because there were broad and sort of vague perceptions about this and no one could really point to anything specific necessarily. And basically what it boiled down to was a culture is built, at least partially, on stories and on collective story telling. And the problem, folks, is that stories that get told are always dramatic. You don't tell anybody about going to the copier and making a copy successfully.
Stories at work are like news in our lives. The news is famous for saying, "We don't report every plane that lands safely" and while you may agree or disagree with what news gets covered and why, the fact is, news is dramatic and stories are dramatic. And if you are going to tell a story about someone, for example the fact that somebody got promoted. Unusually if someone tells a story about getting promoted, it is about carping that he got promoted or she got promoted and I didn't.
A good example would be, somebody says something in a public organizational venue, at a meeting in town hall or something, and as somebody put it afterwards, "he spoke up and suddenly he was gone from the company shortly thereafter."
It is probably not entirely true, this story, or he may have left on his own. But it doesn't matter - the story goes around and that gets into people's genes, which basically says "Don't speak up, don't talk, don't respond to requests for information." In part, because my boss has a hat on in his head, or a sign on his forehead that says "Watch out I am your boss, I could fire you".
If you are a leader, if you are a manager, be careful of the stories you tell. I am sure I can't convince you to not tell any negative stories, but I can suggest: please consider telling positive stories every once in a while to add it to the myth-making that your employees do about your company.