office partyJust as the holidays’ flurry of activities traditions are built around stories families tell themselves about their family culture, the flurry of activities in your office is built around stories you tell yourself about your office’s culture.  The stories are ones that support the success of your mission and vision.

Going back to the holidays, no one describes their mission and vision for the holidays is to make Santa Claus the harbinger of family love.  Usually, a holiday tradition starts with the vision of creating a memorable experience of wonder, good cheer and thoughtfulness.  The mission statement may include spending time with family, communal celebrations and thoughtful gifts.  The story of Santa is one mode of realizing thoughtful gifts.  In the end, it is the story of Santa that drives much of the activities.

The same can be said of the culture in the office.  Stories about it generally are not found in the mission and vision statements, and if there, the non-fiction reality may not match the well-penned fiction of the statements.  Uncovering office culture lays in the stories themselves.  Ferreting out uncensored versions can drive profitable transformation. 

The first step in learning the stories is identifying common organizational references.  What do employees say about each other?  Is person X respected because she knows her responsibilities; is it because she is a kind person; is it because of longevity; or, is it because she knows how to game the system?  If she is respected because of her kindness the story may point to a common value for kindness that all the employees have or it may point to a perceived lack of kindness in the majority of the firm.  Likewise, knowing if the respect is because person X knows how to game the system, what does this say about the ethical attachments people have to the job?  Another popular story may be about the annual company picnic.  Many positive recollections of this can show that the employees enjoy leisure time with each other.  So, if collaboration in the company needs to increase then company-wide leisure activities can be used grease more avenues for collaboration.

HBR blog “If You Are Going to Change Your Culture, Do It Quickly”, November 18, 2013, talks about how Trane uncovered its stories and started to rewrite them. Trane, $8 billion subsidiary of Ingersoll Rand that provides heating, ventilating, air conditioning and building management systems, realized that organization culture needed to be addressed before net profit increases could be seen.  In fact, Trane believed that it was culture that could drive the business performance instead of business performance driving the culture.  Looking at their mission and vision statements, Trane wanted to know what sort of stories drove current behavior to align or misalign with the mission and vision.

So, when the department directors met, they first began with a discussion about the stories in their department.  The stories were short and non-informative at the beginning but, after a while they started to form a pattern highlighting where cultural change needed to occur.  One story that came to the surface was a particular department’s reputation for high-intensity backbiting.  Instead of aggressively combating the backbiting, the directors and managers tried an approach to change the “story” about backbiting.  First, department leaders were trained in different socio-linguistic behaviors options.  Then, the leaders did not tell people what to do, instead they modeled the behavior themselves.  When an employee respectfully engaged with another, the leaders thanked the employees. When an employee was disrespectful to another, the leaders met with the employee one-on-one to model the positive behavior.  At the same time, the leaders kept taking a “cultural pulse” survey every six months to see if the stories had changed.   The department did move away from its backbiting chapter to a new story that upticked company morale.


Everyone has story that supports his or her culture.  The more the story is said, the more insight it gives about a culture.  Think about the different stories of Santa Claus.  Without much work, you will be able to choose the adult story, the child story, the retail story and an individual nations’ story.  All of these came about under the vision statement of creating a memorable holiday and the mission statement of having a central figure to build the holiday around, but the stories are of very different motivating cultures.