The Change model i’ve been exploring over the past few months outlines three manifestations of change within an organisation: they can be ‘Resistant‘ to it, ‘Constrained‘ by it, or become ‘Dynamic‘. To start the journey to Dynamic, we start by segmenting the resistance: breaking it down into manageable chunks, working on each one and laying the foundations for change. We can consider the technology, approach to communication, styles of cognition and behaviours that are exhibited. I’ve already written about technology and communication, so today, reflecting on authenticity.
Consider how your story is grounded: where does it find it’s authority, what gives it it’s power? Authority can come through hierarchy, vested by the power of ‘i told you so‘, or through expertise, where you listen because you believe the person behind it knows their stuff. Stories can have authority through lived experience, ground truth, where experience in the real world qualifies the individual to speak with wisdom, or stories may be revered because of their longevity, like the ancient tales of Beowolf or the Iliad. To challenge these stories would be to question our own history.
We can consider the authenticity of a story to be the accreditation of it’s power: the degree to which we are likely to trust it lies in some part in the authority we bestow on those people who tell it. And this is what gives us our power to effect change: by understanding the authenticity of organisational stories in resistance, and by investing our own Social Authority in our own work. By speaking in authentic tones, we can cut through organisational noise.
I’ll refer back again to the Social Leadership work here: developing one’s Social Leadership platform starts with a conscious choice. What values will you be known for, what space will you take, and how will you frame your choices, actions and words to reinforce that. Only by speaking in a consistent tone of voice can we build the reputation that will underlie our Social Authority.
Organisations that are resistant to change are not just passive or neglectful of it: they are monumentally, infrastucturally, actively out to deny and prevent it, often under the guise of best practice and common sense. They create a barren ecosystem of thoughtlessness that withers the vines of curiosity and innovation. They deploy antibodies to fight those who rise up to question ‘why’ and do so from their hierarchical position of power. To change them requires not just one intervention, but a concerted move on many fronts, hence our initial steps to categorise and segment the resistance. And make no mistake: this drive for change is not an external force, but rather may be a compelling internal one from the embryonic change community who recognise the imperative to adapt or die in the Social Age.
One of the things we can do to reinforce our change efforts, as we seek to overcome the Antibody Effect, is to curate a highly effective tone of voice in our stories, a tone of voice that seeks to engage. As we discussed when looking at Communication in Resistant organisations, they often seek to broadcast stories rather than engage in debate, but the power to engage lies in our hands, especially if we use a highly authentic tone of voice. Engagement through humility and curiosity: engagement to get things done. It’s harder to resist a pull than a push.
At a practical level, as we seek to establish the foundations of a change community and platform, we claim a space for rehearsal and a space for response: we open up a series of spaces for debate. It’s not specifically what’s debated that’s important: it’s the fact that we are having the conversation to begin with, and the fact that we both have a voice in it that counts. In a Dynamic organisation, the truth is co-created, a combined voice from all parties, so finding that voice is important.
So how do we define an authentic tone of voice? How do we know that we have found it? It’s partly internal, partly through our actions. Internally, it’s by acting with belief, with words that are true to what we believe, by acting with humility, being willing to learn, being kind in our response and approach. By engaging with open curiosity by sharing our learning as we go. In our actions, we need to be consistent, adaptive, measured and kind. We need to challenge constructively and consistently towards a defined outcome and be prepared to be just one part of a story, not to own the whole story ourselves. We have to bring an attitude of co-creation, not an attitude of embodied authority.
And how do we recognise the inauthentic stories that Organisations perpetuate? Often through their artefacts: stories that are designed polished to a high degree, but speak with only one voice. Stories that provide no space for difference or diversity. Stories that are embedded in systems and process that are inflexible and brittle.
As we segment resistance within the organisation, in preparation for building our foundations, we need to understand the types of stories that are shared and the authenticity that they are founded upon. As we understand that, and in parallel, we must ensure authority in our own stories, based upon our actions and stance, our tone of voice and mindset. With this understanding, we can move on to open up new spaces, engage with authenticity, set the foundations for co-creation and start to achieve momentum in dialogue and intent.