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Weekly Column: Purposeful Story Telling

Friday, July 31, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I posted a link on twitter to a blog entry entitled "A Good Way to Change the Corporate Culture" written by Peter Bregman over at HarvardBusiness.org.

The essence of the article is that if you want to change the culture of an organization, you need to start changing its stories. I urge you to read it because the more I reflected on the article within the context of the public service the more I thought that its core message was bang on.


Defining Our Culture

The article linked to above reminded me of something so fundamental about the formation of culture; something I have known for a long time yet only hinted at in my previous writings (as opposed to being the explicit subject thereof).

That something is this: the culture of the public service is not defined by the rules, the hierarchy, or the paperwork but by how we have interacted, and continue to interact, with these (and other) things. More specifically, culture is defined by how we and others talk about our dealings with these things. Once we realize this we understand that we actually have a tremendous amount of power over our surroundings.


Changing the Work Culture

If you want to work in a different type of culture, then share the stories that reinforce that type of culture and refuse to repeat the ones that work against it. Be more aware of your interactions with others and their implications when taken in the aggregate.

Take this blog for example, it and everything I think it represents (grassroots participation in Canadian Public Service Renewal) has taken on a meme of its own, but how did you find out about it?

Chances are you didn't find it in a search (less than 5% of our total traffic comes from search engines). Either someone you know told you about it, or another site you read/trust referred you here. Culture, and our ability to influence it, works in much the same way.

Culture grows organically and CPSRenewal, which includes both its writer, editor, and readers, is simply another contributing factor to the growth of that culture. I need only to look back at the discussion that followed our last post for evidence that it is stimulating genuine dialogue among interested and engaged public servants.


Call to Action

I have a small favour to ask each and every one of you. In the coming week, think about a story you want to share, one that reinforces the culture you want to work in, and share it with someone else (and while you are at it, leave it as a comment on this post).

But please, if you can, share it with someone who is still on the fence, help them come down, because if we want to shape the way we work and relate to one another within the public service - if we want to shape the culture - then we must be more purposeful when we tell the stories that promote the one we want to work in.

[Aside: If you don't think you are ready to be more purposeful in your story telling, simply share the link to this site with them, maybe we can convince them.]