Using Storytelling To Change Your Corporate Culture

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Last week, I was consulting at a Vancouver non-profit that is undergoing a period of transition. They’ve recently had a change in senior management and their new CEO has new ideas and new energy. They are feeling optimistic about this next stage. However, there are some challenges.

Part of the challenge is to change their internal culture. They want to let go of their previously stodgy image and develop a more informal and entrepreneurial culture. My job? To help them figure out how to transmit stories that are viral, inspirational and authentic.  We identified three key kinds of story that would engender change at the deepest level; winning hearts and minds through inspiration.

Horror Stories

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that knowledge doesn’t cause behavioral change.  (Otherwise I would have given up sugar yesterday.)  Simply pointing out disappointing returns doesn’t necessarily inspire people to take a good hard look at what is going wrong.  Although it’s difficult, getting people to verbalize moments where things went wrong can exorcise demons and motivate deep change. The trick is to ensure that these stories are told without blame or finger-pointing, but in a spirit of fair-minded honesty. (A good shot of humor works well here; you can look back and laugh!)

Fairy Tales

If you dream it, you can do it, right? Envisioning where you want to go helps you define goals, draft plans and more importantly, inspire all those around you.  This is a great opportunity to get everyone to take ownership of the culture around you. Ask these questions:

  • If you could change one thing about your job, what would you change?
  • What would be the most important thing this company could accomplish in the next year?
  • What would be the most exciting thing to happen to you in your professional life?

Have big, audacious dreams. Success is 90% perspiration, but it still requires that 10% inspiration.

Hero Narratives

We’ve already talked about origin stories, but identifying those who are positively contributing to your culture can go a long way to larger change.  Your actions can change your thinking; and it gets back to the point of inspiring people to be different at work. Furthermore, identifying and applauding those at your company who are already leading change motivates them – they feel wanted.  Find your heroes, and let them lead.

Changing your culture requires inspiration and optimism. Tell stories that encourage you to dream big, allow you to let go of bad experiences and raise up those who are going to lead deep organizational change.

Photo: “Storytelling”, copyright Jim Pennucci. Used under Creative Commons; no amendments made. See the original at