How ‘Story Building’ Can Help Boost Your Business Performance

Below is a really good summary of the article and the authors share key points.


Seasoned hikers wouldn’t dream of heading off into the wilderness without a map and a compass.  But organizations do it every day.


Every organization is perfectly aligned to get the results it’s getting.  Unsatisfied with results?  Check your map and compass.


Strategic alignment is every bit as critical for organizations as it is for hikers.  Call it pathfinding.  Call it navigating to true north.  Call it mission and vision.  Call it taking responsibility for shaping events.  Call it good leadership.  Call it smart business.  It’s not a destination, it’s a journey.  Take charge.


Bottom-line?  Culture is a key performance component in every organization—your business, your team, your family.


It may seem like an oversimplification, but “culture” is in large part a product of the stories people create about their environment.  Note that word “create.”  Culture is not just about storytelling (although that plays a role).  It’s about story building.


Multiple studies show that most strategic efforts to change a company’s culture fail.  There are several attributes that are common to every successful change story.


“Storytelling is used to inspire certain behaviors in organizations, and some stories have true motivational power,” Amorim says.  “However, nothing is more impactful than seeing a leader behaving in ways that reflect the principles and values of the new culture.


Barney says that to be effective, culture-changing stories must have six attributes:


1.  They must be authentic, consistent with the values and actions of the leader who’s building them. This doesn’t mean that the leader never makes a mistake. But when a mistake is made, the leader must acknowledge it, then use the error to build a story that exemplifies the new culture that’s being built.


2.  Culture-changing stories must “star” the business leader.  Barney and his colleagues have never seen a successful culture change in an organization that was not—at least in part—“top-down” in nature.  


3.  The actions that business leaders take to build a story must break with the past and provide a clear path to the future.  They break with the past by clearly rebuffing the values and norms that dominate an older culture.  They provide a path to the future by exemplifying the kind of culture a business leader thinks will be needed to implement a new strategy.


4.  Culture-changing stories must appeal to employees’ heads and hearts, Barney says. “By heads, we mean there must be a compelling business reason to change the culture—usually because it is not aligned with a firm’s strategies.  If there is no business case for culture change, then culture change is a manifestation of a business leader’s ego.”


5.  Culture-changing stories are often theatrical.  Barney says this makes them memorable.  It also sends a signal that a business leader is deeply committed to culture change.


6.  Finally, business leaders need to encourage other employees in the organization to build their own culture-changing stories.  Barney says they do this by building multiple culture-changing stories themselves, by recognizing when others have built stories, and even by asking a few critical managers to build culture-changing stories.


“Mark Twain said that ‘actions speak louder than words, but not nearly so often,’” Barney notes. “It’s quite easy to announce the need for a new culture.  But such announcements are examples of ‘cheap talk.’  When culture change gets difficult—as it almost always does—it’s easy for business leaders to put this kind of change on the ‘back burner’ as a firm focuses its efforts on shorter-term financial or regulatory or other challenges.”


What’s the key to building stories that appeal to both the head and the heart?


Barney says that on the “head” side,” business leaders need to build stories that clearly exemplify what a firm’s new strategy needs to be, and the culture that needs to be created to implement that strategy. On the “heart” side, “these stories also need to invite employees to join with a business leader to build a better and more effective company that accomplishes great things.”


I Power Seeds

Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!

This article was a little more culture-focused, but was included because as a leader, creating your stories has to be of value and impactful.  And the attributes in this article can help build value and impact from your stories.


Check out the other posts on story telling.


Good luck.


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