A particular type of story that gets retold in organisations is the story about when ‘power’ was challenged and the result.
We collected the following story from a client about how challenge, or more accurately, a perceived challenge, was handled by their former chief executive:
Keith just asked a question during one of John’s Chief Executive Roadshows, and all he was really saying was, ‘I think there’s a problem. We need to fix it’. Keith wasn’t having a go at John, just trying to get a problem fixed. But apparently after that session, John pulled him aside and tore a strip off him, and that story went through this place like Epsom salts. From then on, no-one was going to open up in those sessions.
Some work we did recently with a City Council gave us a contrasting example.
On our first visit to the council’s main building, we found that the receptionist was very efficient – a little abrupt perhaps, but she left you in no doubt as to what was required of you as a visitor and the processes and procedures you had to follow. When we were in a lift with our client, we made a light-hearted comment about how efficient the receptionist was. The client laughed and told us a story about the day their CEO walked into the building to find she’d left her ID pass in her car. The receptionist denied her access. The CEO shrugged her shoulders and, without saying a word, went back to her car to get her pass. The next time we were at the council building, someone else told us exactly the same story. It had obviously had an impact across the organisation.
So what stories about challenging 'power' are being told in your organisation? What do they say about your culture? If you wanted to trigger a different story around this how could you do it?
Love to hear your views