One of the biggest challenges faced by many organizations trying to introduce social media into the mix is changing some of the ingrained organizational culture practices, and a resistance to change. Changing organizational culture can be a long and challenging process, and involves a series of complex interrelated steps. This is not an attempt to overly simplify things, but more of a summary of some general issues and one approach that I came across about 6 years ago while working for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC): the idea of storytelling to spark change.
Some primary challenges face by a lot of organizations: Firstly an organization-centric approach to business excludes the perspective or the client, and puts up a wall between the organization and the public. But, the public is out there, and they’re talking about YOU, so that wall needs to come down! Second, the degree to which different parts of an organization collaborate (which is often not very much, or not very well), creates silos within an organization, and a reluctance to engage people outside the organization (if it doesn’t happen within an organization, it’s a challenge to get people doing it outside the walls). Embracing a more open, collaborative work ethic requires a shift in both support and incentive from various levels of management to acknowledge inter-unit contributions. Thirdly, related to the issue of collaboration, is the level of comfort to work transparently and openly. If there is a perceived risk of making statements that are visible to the entire organization, and a perceived (real or not) threat of negative consequences for speaking out within the organization, then participation will simply not happen very openly.
These are some large organizational obstacles to collaboration that I’ve observed and encountered over the years – not necessarily the most important or relevant to all organizations – but certainly things that are a serious hindrance to social media adoption.
One idea for cultivating organizational change…
A few years ago I attended a workshop in Washington D.C. led by Steve Denning, formerly of the World Bank, on Storytelling for Organizational Change. The main concept behind his idea is to use well crafted stories, of which people can take ownership, to instill and spread simple ideas for change around an organization. More powerful than a presentation or document, a story can help people to visualize the relevance of concepts for their own set of problems. It also helps people to easily package the story as their own, and spread the idea around the organization.
Steve’s book, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, was published in the pre-web2.0 era. However, I think that the concepts are still very relevant, both in a face-to-face context for sparking org-change; but also as stories are told and shared in an online collaborative environment through various web 2.0 tools.
Storytelling could easily be used to both to spread positive stories about the successful use of web 2.0 tools and social media approaches to adding business value; and as a (web-based) tool or approach in itself – for example, success stories shared through a blog.
Has anyone out there ever used storytelling to spark changes within your organization?