ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - September 2000

Issue Highlight - Remembering What Matters
-  Peter Block explains the need to look deeper than fashion and technological trends to find meaning in our homes and workplaces.

 In This Issue...
Living Impossible Dreams
Ouch! Is it Time to Redesign Your Systems?
Searching Ourselves: Avoiding Office Boxing Rings
Believe It or Not— Workplace Bias Still Exists

Bedtime Stories for Your Organization
Economy Breeds Short-Sightedness

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

Bedtime Stories For Your Organization

Organizational Stories Enhance Cultural Change and Create Understanding of Values

We have all watched the nightly news and seen extraordinary people profiled. Laughing or crying as their stories unfold, we take a look at ourselves and wonder what we could do to improve our world. These "triumphs of the human spirit" motivate people to change the way they live and positively impact the world around them. The same can happen in organizations.
  Although changing organizational culture presents many obstacles, Fredricka Joyner believes that the task can lessen in complexity by shedding light on those extraordinary people. Storytelling provides a much better base for new culture growth and old culture transformation than easily forgotten, confusing statistics. Instead, the key to change lies in the stories that go untold everyday. Read on to see what may help your company in current or future situations.

“A funny thing happened on the way to ...”
“Perhaps you’ve heard the story of ...”
“Once upon a time a ...”

  Storytelling is as new as the current best-seller and as old as the stick-figure drawings that decorate cave walls. For centuries, public speakers have found an anecdote an antidote for audience ennui. In the nineteenth century, story lessons in the “McGuffey Readers” provided a moral compass for a generation of young Americans. Millions of viewers were recently drawn to television’s “Survivor” by the vicarious thrill of watching the personal lottery of a “real-life story” unfolding.

  According to Fredricka Joyner, a specialist in organizational development, storytelling can be equally successful in changing the cultural context when implementing change or new strategic initiatives.

  “By culture, I mean the basic assumptions, the overall values or norms affecting an organization,” she explains, adding that these factors are subtly formative, but seldom stated. “As a company or an institution grows, these unwritten rules of ‘how we’ve always done it’ become ingrained to the point of blocking new, and often necessary, initiatives.”
Organization Effectiveness Coach at the Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, Ind., Joyner earned her Masters in Organizational Management on the Los Angeles campus of Antioch College, and the dissertation topic for her Ph.D. from Cincinnati’s Union Institute focused on community formation.

  Joyner has been with Columbus Regional Hospital for the past ten years and began her work in the health field at Cedar Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. Prior to that, she was first a classroom teacher and then served with a large utility company.

Changing Organizational Conversations

 “In my experience, I have found that organizational changes often fail not because of an inherent fault in the program per se, but because new ways are being introduced into a culture that is not sufficiently supportive. If you want to change the culture to support strategic work, the organizational conversation—its basic assumptions and group attitudes—may need to be edged into new directions.”

 One of the best tools for influencing attitudinal change, Joyner stresses, is through storytelling. “Storytelling is one creative, energizing way to change earlier conceptions and to introduce new ideas or information.”

  As an example, Joyner tells of an unfortunate disagreement that occurred between two principal officers of the regional hospital with which she is associated.

  “The dispute became public knowledge, and although the incident was quickly resolved, rumors and misunderstandings not only made the affair out to be more than it was, but continued to tarnish the hospital’s image as well.”

  In response, Columbus Regional Hospital began to assemble true stories of exemplary hospital service: stories of dedicated employees or volunteers, of continuing staff and community member support.

  “We began publication of a series of success stories with accompanying photos in the local paper, and each year these are collected into a booklet. The hospital holds an annual community dinner honoring those who have been cited and their stories are retold. It is images such as these,” Joyner points out, “that shape how we think.”

Creating Legends

 “Facts and figures,” she goes on to say, “are important, but they are seldom remembered. We can report statistics about hospital growth or how many newborns arrive each month or year, and these are momentarily newsworthy, but they’re seldom remembered. On the other hand, stories about friends and neighbors tend to become almost legendary.”

  Pointing to one of the most contemporary changes affecting the context of community culture, Joyner cites the hospital’s online nursery web site.

  “Via the Internet, we show pictures of our new babies. As a matter of privacy, we use only a baby’s first name or perhaps the parents’ initials. However, the public response has been overwhelming. People love baby pictures, and some viewers, recognizing an infant, even reply on the web, extending best wishes or offering messages of congratulation to the proud parents.”

A Wall of History

 Another image-building venture at the Indiana hospital is its history wall.

  “Our hospital has grown rapidly,” Joyner explains. “Not long ago, we had 700 employees; now we have double that number. The original building was replaced, and the new facility has 325 beds and expanded out-patient and clinical facilities. Some of our longtime employees felt unappreciated and passed by in this evolutionary process of change. So we developed a history wall in recognition of the hospital’s service history and its dedicated staff members. We collected and now display photographs of then and now; we even have some artifacts from the old building and a few pieces of its early equipment on view.”

  By bringing the past into the present, this story-telling effort underscores the hospital’s continuing spirit and longtime community service,” Joyner adds.

Never Ending Story

 If one succeeds in changing cultural attitudes, is the work completed? Not at all, Joyner replies.

  “The organization itself is always changing. Just think of how ways of doing business and corporate images have been altered by e-mail and fax and web sites, for example. Think of company mergers, new locations and product changes. There are always new stories to be told, new opportunities to be reported, and new people to be profiled.
Joyner’s way of doing things as Organization Effectiveness Coach at Columbus Regional Hospital has also undergone some changes.

  “Currently, I am focusing on leadership development. In specific programs, I can call upon the aid of external consultants, depending upon both local and national expertise. The presence of Cummins Engineering in Columbus makes it possible to use top-notch local assistance, and we strive to provide ‘cutting edge’ programs,” Joyner explains.
“I work on training leaders who carry personal development training back to their individual groups or departments,” she adds.

  As the mother of four boys, ages 12, 10, 7 and 2, Fredricka Joyner has also adjusted her own work schedule as both career professional and homemaker.

  “My hospital staff includes an RN clinician who works on curriculum design, and an office secretary, so my time is relatively flexible. After my two-year-old’s birth, I down-shifted to 26 hours per week. Now, I am again full-time, but I have a work station in my home.”
In addition to developing meaningful personal stories, Joyner also recommends examples that can be used as metaphors effecting a change in culture.

  “It has been said that ‘Culture trumps strategy every time,’” Joyner recalls. In that case, an appropriate metaphor would seem a suitable conclusion. As Fredricka Joyner says metaphorically: “Before planting a field, the ground may have to be turned and fertilized. When trying to plant the ideas of new initiatives, first make sure that the soil of organizational conversation has been well-tilled.”

         September 2000 NFC Homepage


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