People are fascinating. How we behave as a collective in the thing we call an “organisation” is about as fascinating as it gets. The personalities. The dynamics. The perceptions. The rules. It’s what got me into HR in the first place.

We talk “culture” in organisations as if we invented it. As a buzz word and a thing to fix.

The reality is every group of people who come together and arrange themselves in some form of collective create “something” around them. The sum total of the group’s structures, myths, legends, rules, social norms, and official and unofficial rites and rituals say something about that group. It’s why we’re seeing anthropologists jump into the organisational consulting space. Organisations are some of the most fascinating tribes there are.

Culture doesn’t care whether you create a program to focus on it or not. It still exists. It has to. Without something binding the collective together an organisation just…isn’t. Culture is the bind. I’ve heard the argument that organisation’s don’t have one “tribe” therefore they don’t have a “culture”. I’ve been rolling that around in my mind and I call hodge podge. Every tribe has a culture and sub-cultures. People may identify more strongly with the sub-culture but that doesn’t mean the overarching tribe doesn’t exist.

And that’s the piece that many organisations seem to be missing. Culture isn’t something you create. It’s already there.

It’s something you influence. And when it comes to culture, people are more influenced by the heart first, then the head. That’s right. The old hearts and minds.

It’s why you won’t change a culture with rules, a rebrand, or a culture change initiative. Fear and obedience will get you begrudging compliance. While a picture tells a thousand words a logo won’t change behaviour. And most programs focus on a “business problem” to fix, such as reducing silos, not paying attention to the unseen force that sits below the problem in the first place – the rules, myths, legends, rites and rituals that allowed the “problem” to surface in the first place.

To create influence through the heart we tell stories. The stories of heroines and heroes who triumph over adversity are the stories that live through the ages.  Our love of the theatre and cinema, newspapers, books and even video games shows our connection to story-telling lives on. So you want to change culture? Learn to tell stories and teach your leaders to do the same. Throughout history people have followed leaders who made them believe. But that’s just the start.

What does culture change look like in your organisation? What’s worked? What’s set you back?

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