Weekly Business Insights from Top Ten Business Magazines | Week 314 | Leading & Managing Section | 1

Extractive summaries and key takeaways from the articles curated from TOP TEN BUSINESS MAGAZINES to promote informed business decision-making | Since September 2017 | Week 314 | September 15-21, 2023

Create Stories That Change Your Company’s Culture

By Jay B. Barney et al., | Harvard Business Review | September–October 2023 Issue

Extractive Summary of the Article | Listen

It’s well-known that firms where strategy and culture align outperform firms where they do not. It follows, then, that if the two aren’t aligned, you most likely need to change your culture.  That’s simple to say but hard to do. 

So what did the successful leaders do? They created stories highlighting actions that were inconsistent with a firm’s established culture but reinforced an alternative culture that was more strategically aligned.  Crafting new stories forces business leaders to commit to cultural change in a way that creating new HR policies or cultural charters doesn’t. Once the stories have spread throughout an organization, they’re difficult to disavow or dislodge. And as the new stories replace narratives that reinforced the old culture, employees begin coming up with their own stories and end up co-creating a new one consistent with a firm’s strategies.  What’s the key to making these new stories work? The authors’ research has identified six rules that business leaders need to follow:

  1. Be Authentic.  Authentic stories reflect your deeply held values and beliefs. If your stories are inconsistent with them, sooner or later your employees will spot your hypocrisy and question your commitment to change. But crafting authentic stories can feel risky because it involves opening yourself up personally. It’s hard to know how people will respond to your honesty and transparency.
  2. Feature Yourself in Your Stories. Another way to demonstrate that your commitment to a new culture is authentic is to make sure that you yourself play a prominent role in the narratives you craft.
  3. Break with the Past and Lay a Path to the Future.  Not surprisingly, your culture-changing stories must demonstrate that the values and beliefs from the past no longer apply. They must also describe new cultural norms—but not in such detail that they stop your employees from helping create a new culture with you.
  4. Appeal to Hearts and Minds.  If the stories you craft don’t present a strong business case for a new culture, your efforts could easily be dismissed as a personal ego trip. In most instances the primary business case will be that cultural change will improve your strategy implementation, generating real economic value for your firm.
  5. Be Theatrical.  If you want employees to share your stories, you must make them memorable. 
  6. Empower Others to Create Their Own Stories.  In order to push cultural change throughout their organizations, business leaders have to make room for and celebrate other people’s stories about it.

3 key takeaways from the article

  1. It’s well-known that firms where strategy and culture align outperform firms where they do not. It follows, then, that if the two aren’t aligned, you most likely need to change your culture.  Although cultural change is rarely easy, it is possible. You must begin by creating new stories that replace the old stories your employees currently tell one another. 
  2. The new narratives must be authentic, feature you as the business leader, offer both a break with the past and a path toward the future, appeal to employees’ hearts and minds, be theatrical, and empower others in your firm to write their own culture-changing stories. 
  3. Once you see your employees sharing them, then you can start focusing on reworking the nuts and bolts of your organizational policies and practices to reinforce the emerging culture.

Full Article

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Topics:  Culture, Leadership, Stories

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