In every story there’s a hero or heroine and a villain. The support cast help the protagonists win the day. Good battles over evil. We see the story repeated time and time again in cinema, on television, in books, in theatre.
Humans clearly find this story powerful. We’ve held onto this format for thousands of years. People can unite behind a hero or heroine.
So we can we take something inherent to people and apply it to our workplaces to improve the employee experience?
Myths and legends create a common understanding of a culture. It says something about the finance sector that movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Wall Street” resonate. While the movies are set in different decades, not a lot moved. The legends are the players. The myths of the guys (yes, men) hanging on the edge, partying hard and delivering big dollars.
In nursing, the story of the Florence Nightingale, the lady with the lamp, endures. She turned nursing on its head, introduced new standards and importantly worked around the (male) doctors of the time to get it done.
It’s just as important what these heroes and heroines do as what they don’t do. Finance dudes don’t do emotions. They don’t do soft. They don’t go small. They don’t dob. It’s how we got Emron.
What are the myths and legends in your organisation? The stories that your organisation chooses to hold onto say something about the culture. I’ve heard stories told of people I’ve never worked with long after they are gone.
The stories that leaders at the top think are being repeated aren’t necessarily the ones that get repeated. Listen to the organisation. What are the stories that are actually being told? That will tell you a lot about where your organisation is placed.
You can’t change the myths and legends just by putting a new story out there and expecting it to replace the old one. Look at the way social media works. The stories that grip the public, get a million likes, are not always the ones you expect are going to be the most popular. There’s examples of epic social media fails where organisations have just got it wrong.
So how can we influence a new narrative?
- Be authentic. The story has to be real. This means you need to know what the epic stories in your organisation actually are.
- Celebrate the story. Make it part of the organisation’s ongoing narrative. Use different media.
- Engage people with the story. Myths and legends were often real people before they became an enduring story. While you’ve got the person, tell the story, share it, let people see the story. And when that person goes? There’s no need to stop telling the story. It doesn’t mean that the legend isn’t a good one just because that person is not with your organisation anymore.
Who is your organisation’s Sharon?
What are the myths and legends in your organisation? Does what we say we do and what our legends and myths say align?