There’s a lot of talk about narrative these days. In fact, we all tell stories all the time – from what we communicate to customers about our brand, goods and services to the voice inside our head that is constantly “telling” us who we are (hopefully, not too many voices at one time.) So do we believe those stories or something different? For individuals AND organizations, it’s vitally important to know the difference.
Being honest with yourself about yourself
It’s very difficult, as Simon Jacobson points out, to have accurate self-perception. That’s because the stories we tell ourselves about our own selves come from various places: teachers, parents, loved ones. These stories can be inaccurate and judgmental and therefore self-limiting. Or they might even be delusional. Neither of those extremes is useful and, probably, the closer our stories are to reality the better off we are emotionally.
The problem when organizations are not who they say they are
When companies have a narrative that is inaccurate about themselves they have a real problem of communication and they might not even know it. In some cases, they tell a story that’s too modest. They don’t celebrate the truly great things that they have to offer and the value they bring to their customers. This leads to a kind of self-perpetuating lack of self-esteem that has two negative effects: the first is that the market has less possibility to understand what’s on offer and so they miss out out on buying it, and the second is that the organization internally misses the opportunity to take rightful pride in what they do and how they do it. Taking pride and joy in work is a vital component for continuing to do work that is ever better and for building on past successes. There is a real risk of fading away instead of growing.
On the other hand, if an organization or a professional builds a story that sounds great but doesn’t reflect the truth then all they do is create hype. It won’t take long for people to figure that out and then you lose something that can’t be bought, no matter how fancy your marketing and advertising are, and that is trust.
The value of feedback
How can we get a more accurate picture so we can build a narrative that is compelling AND true? By getting reliable feedback. For individuals, this needs to come from people we trust. For organizations, feedback takes two important forms:
- from customers
- from “listening” to your processes to find out how reliable they are.
You can hear the ‘voice of the process’ and how they are affected by variation through Statistical Process Control. Control charts won’t flatter you but, on the upside, they won’t insult you either.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint . This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.