How Do We Change the Culture? Change the Story

I had the great good fortune of hearing Lt General David Morrison speak recently. As well as being named Australian of the Year 2016, he is now Chair of the Diversity Council Australia.

He was here for the Institute of Directors conference and Vector, one of our Rainbow Tick clients, had arranged for him to do a special one hour talk after.

For those who don’t know him, he is the ex Chief of the Australian Army, and achieved some international fame when he made this video about what was acceptable behaviour in the Australian Army, and, very clearly, what was not. Lt Gen

He was inspirational, not a word I’d use lightly, and clearly dedicated to the value of ensuring that the Army is truly welcoming and inclusive of all.

While his emphasis was on the role of women, he also stated that sexual orientation and gender identity were also serious and central matters and the need for zero tolerance in the face of wrong.

As Lt General Morrison put it “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

He talked about changing the culture, and this led me to ask him just how you do that. It’s a question that we get asked as well, and his answer seemed on the money.

You change the culture by changing the stories.

It seems so simple, but that simplicity belies its power.

We all love a good story, and whether we realise it or not, we tell ourselves and each other stories all the time. And it’s the stories we tell, or the ones we don’t question, that set the tone for our workplaces.

It’s the stories we tell or hear that signal to us about what is acceptable and what is not. And it’s through stories we understand our culture, whether in general or at work.


Inforgraphic by Fathom

If we hear stories that imply or demonstrate it’s ok to belittle a certain group, to regard them as different and lesser than us, then we will accept it as part of our norm.

To reap the benefits of diversity and achieve real inclusion in our workplaces we need to hear stories that tell us why this is now part of our culture. And as with Lt General Morrison, we need to hear these stories coming from the top.

A common question is “How do we get our LGBTTI staff to come out more at work, how can we get them to participate?”

If this is an issue, then you need to ask why they don’t feel safe already. What is going on, what have they heard, whether directly or just picked up from the general atmosphere.

You need to change the stories that they, and everyone hear.

In our experience, to be effective,  these stories ideally needs to come clearly from the top of the organisation.

A simple, clear story from the leadership as to why and how things are changing, and one that gets repeated until it becomes part of the culture – this is the way to bring about change.

Think about the stories you tell, think about what your listeners hear, and what sort of culture you create. This is the route to positive change.