I’ve cut another 500 words from ‘The Change Handbook’ today, as i try to nibble away at the final stages of writing. I’m sharing a section today which explores ‘stasis’, one aspect of ‘Resistance’ that relates to the way that an organisations shapes, and holds, stories. This is #WorkingOutLoud, so not finished work, but getting close.
‘Stasis’ as Resister
Looking at how rapidly Organisational stories evolve is a good indicator of how ‘Resistant’, or ‘Dynamic’ it is.
Resistant Organisations use formal stories that persist for a long time, whilst Dynamic Organisations use constantly evolving, fluid stories.
The notion of the Socially Dynamic Organisation is closely tied to the evolution in the nature of knowledge itself: increasingly co-created, adaptive, evolutionary, and democratised. Changing over time.
In a Dynamic organisation, formal stories like handbooks or websites may have a core structure, but a rapidly iterating narrative that reflects the organisation as it is today. The induction materials of a Dynamic organisation will reflect the input of the last cohort of inductees: their story will have been written into the overall body of work.
The Socially Dynamic Organisation will recognise the value of tacit, tribal, stories, whilst the Resistant one will silence them, sticking to a static, formal, and ‘safe’ view.
If we engage in collaborative writing approaches, we may be given permission to hear authentic stories. What we do about these, when we hear them, is a feature of our Dynamism, or Constraint.
The sources of knowledge that we tend to find most useful today, those which are socially moderated and co-created, tends to evolve iteratively and continuously.
Static stories tend to reflect formal control: they are narrative butterflies, pinned to the wall.
We can consider three types of stories: individual, co-created, and organisational. Individual stories reflect personal learning and change over time, tend to be deeply authentic, and fully out of the control of the organisation. Rarely are individual stories static.
Co-created community stories represent varied viewpoints, and act as the news stories of the day. Socially Dynamic Organisations utilise these co-created stories for learning, leadership, and change.
The third layer, Organisational stories, should be written by reading the individual and co-created narratives, and learning from them. It will be a story that evolves over time as a mechanism to avoid stasis.
Social Leaders will be expert storytellers, and can help us hear and understand the individual and co-created narratives, so we must develop their storytelling, and story listening, capability.
Restricting flow of information is a time honoured way of attempting to exert control: it’s most often manifest by formalising technology and removing permission to dissent. Whilst the restriction of technology may be positioned by the organisation as a way of reducing risk and complexity, an either intentional or emergent side effect is to formalise the spaces that we communicate in and, by default, to make that communication visible to external, hierarchical authority. Even when not intentional, the effect exists.
There are many good reasons to control information: for compliance, security, protection of patient or commercially sensitive data, but even in these contexts, there can be reasons to leave space clear for free conversation. If we attempt to own every space, we simply move the conversation out of earshot. It’s simply unread wisdom that we cannot benefit from. Buried tribal knowledge.
Consider this: there are two broad approaches taken by compliance organisations: ‘rules based’, where the organisation cages complexity through control, and ‘learning’, where the organisation seeks to learn how to be more compliant. Both involve rules, but in a purely ‘rule based’ approach, the rules proliferate and abrade, while in a ‘learning’ approach, the rules are frequently unwritten or evolved. Learning organisations avoid stasis.
Resistant organisations believe that they own the story, and they hold it static: they formalise it through the language they use, they restrict your ability to edit or refine it, they control the narrative.
Social stories, by contrast, are iterative, wild, varied, somewhat chaotic, but highly authentic (and remember, ‘authentic storytelling’ is a valued leadership trait).
Dynamic organisations utilise a wide range of stories. Constrained organisations utilise a wide range too, but fail to relinquish enough control over them.
Being more open to change is really a story about being more open to the co-creation and adaptation of stories.
Controlling the channels of communication never prevents communication: it just makes stark the lack of permission, and prompts creative attempts to subvert authority. Opening up spaces to communicate, and collaborate, is a key aspect of eroding resistance and building a foundation for change.
What we need to do:
1. How many of your stories are static, and how many co-created and adaptive? Consider how to move this balance.
2. Develop Social Leadership capability for storytelling widely throughout the organisation, not simply within the formal hierarchy.
3. Consider which stories can be undone: which ones have been around for a long time and may actively be holding us back. Do something about these.