Your Culture Has a Story

I love data. I’m a cyclist, and in the group of friends I ride with, I’m known as “stats,” because I am always the one to report on our average speed and the number of meters we climbed, etc. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when it comes to culture, I do like the data. I love debriefing the culture analytics with clients and talking about the interesting patterns and contradictions in the numbers.

But the data by themselves are not enough. Workplace culture is something that is created and shared among human beings, and humans fundamentally make sense of their world through story.

So in addition to the numbers, our culture assessment gives language that you can use to tell the story. Look at these two examples:

  • "You know in this organization that people higher up in the hierarchy will have your back when you want to try something new; they see the value in learning from these experiments so they give you the support you need."
  • "We don't see the need to reinvent the wheel on a regular basis; in order to do things in a different way, we expect employees to make a sound business case backed with data."

These are parts of two very different stories. One is not better than the other, of course. Whether or not you’ve got a culture where “hacking” things is quickly and easily supported should depend on the kind of work you do. I joke all the time—if you run a nuclear power plant, maybe you don’t want a culture where things are “hacked” on a regular basis.

But you need a story. The humans in your workplace need it, and they want to be able to see themselves in that story. Because when they do, their behaviors will become more quickly aligned around the story. Remember, that’s one of the key functions of culture: it drives behavior. So the clearer your story and the more tightly aligned it is with what drives success, the more effective it will be.

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