Cultures within organisations are often maintained by the accepted practices within the workplace as well as the dominant story of the organisation.
Many workplace cultural change programs address the practices carried out in the organisation, believing that changing these practices will ultimately lead to a change of culture. However, not many cultural change programs address changing the dominant story that so often influences and impacts on the practices performed in the workplace.
In many cases, the dominant story is different to the organisational story. The organisational story is the story that is publicly recounted to the community, government, stakeholders, and clients. This story includes the mission statement, vision, and major moments in the history of the organisation. The dominant story is often unwritten. It is not the story that is recounted publicly, it is the story revealed in throw away lines as staff members communicate with each other. The dominant story is often held by the unofficial power holders within an organisation. Because the dominant story is unwritten, never fully revealed and sustained by the unofficial power holders it can have a stronger hold and greater influence in an organisation than the official organisational story.
Strong dominant stories are often a feature of not-for-profit organisations, particularly small to medium size not-for-profits. Examples of these dominant stories are:
The challenge of these stories is they are stories of positions and positions which prevent change. For example, we do good work so the government will fund us becomes translated into practice as we don’t have to look for efficiencies or develop a strong sustainable business model because we will keep being funded for what we are doing. Without the work we do, our clients wouldn’t manage, becomes translated into work practices that encourage dependency in clients rather than practices that encourage client agency and choice. We know the needs of our clients and our programs are working becomes interpreted as, we don’t need to change or review what we are doing.
Cultural change becomes extremely difficult against such strong dominant stories. Hence, it is
important for all organisations – for-profit and not-for-profit to look for ways to bring the dominant story out into the open. Bringing the dominant story into the open often takes time, patience, and good listening skills. Listening for those throw away sentences that reveal the threads of the story.
When the dominant story is not known, recognised, or acknowledged it continues to exert an
influence on cultural work practices. When it is brought into the open, there is a chance for the
implications of the story to be examined and new stories developed that will allow for changes in cultural practices.