What do stories and cartoons have to do with trying to change an organisation’s culture? It seems an unlikely mix of play with serious business. Based on the recent cultural evolution project we found that stories and cartoons are a great way to get employees engaged in a discussion about changing the organisational culture.

Culture is hard to grasp and transmitted in ways that are often invisible. But stories are a powerful way we can share culture. Why do we read stories to children, watch movies and tell a good yarn to our friends? Because it is entertaining, easy to remember and gets a message across. Culture in organisations also moves through its stories, good and bad.

I recently spoke, or should say, I told a story, at the International HR Community (IHRC) meeting in Zurich about how stories and cartoons were used to evolve the culture in management consulting organisation. The story begins with a disparate group of management consultants who had been put together in one organisation through a number of acquisitions and reorganisations. With 500 consultants all with strong opinions and different views, the challenge was to get the consultants to work together towards a common vision and goal.

By gathering stories from around the organisation we understood where the culture was at. Then we selected the best stories to show where we wanted to go, and the worst stories to show what behaviour needed to stop. These stories were illustrated as cartoons, used in follow up workshops to discuss how to move the culture through personal, office and organisational changes.
And cartoons and storytelling really worked. These serious management consultants enjoyed and engaged with the project. They loved telling stories. The cartoons were a fun way to get across a serious message. When cartoons were printed as posters and put up around the office they sparked lots of conversations. We identified the areas of culture we needed to change and agreed actions to improve.

This project was selected as one of five most innovative HR projects from the recent worldwide survey of HR professionals organised by the Boston Consulting Group and World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA) for the annual Creating People Advantage report. Jane Piper of Pipsy Consulting and Pieter Haen of WFPMA presented to IHRC in Zürich about the findings from the survey and the cultural evolution project.

Did you enjoy this story? Would you like to explore further the use of stories and other effective innovative ways of influencing organisational culture then contact me.

Cartoons by Peter Bellingham Illustration www.peterbellinghamillustration.com