Tool: Story Sourcing

Why?

In the context of cultural transformation projects, we are often faced with questions such as: Where are we currently in terms of our organizational culture? What manifestations of culture do we have in our organization? How do we get off to a good start when talking to our employees? What is our understanding of purpose – and how can we reconcile the expectations of management, employees and customers? We have found that collecting stories is often the best way to start a culture project. Stories connect members of organizations with stakeholders by bundling knowledge and experience from history and implicitly including the bet on the future (antenarrative). Those who tell stories automatically report from within themselves and their relationships with others – this tool is therefore universally suited to creating emotional connections in an organization.

 

Example

Two organizations come together as part of an acquisition process. Let’s use the example of two medical technology companies that want to link their business models and successfully launch into the future together. The acquiring company is based in Europe, the other in the USA. The management of the acquiring organization feels that in bringing the two cultures together lies a key lever for the acquisition as a whole: Merging the cultures in such a way that a common motivation is created among the employees is important for realizing the merger strategy and the transformation as a whole. Story sourcing involves collecting stories from employees and customers in order to develop a sustainable and resonant future story for the merger project as a whole.

 

What matters (Principles)

– Story sourcing is primarily about listening skills. We do not interview in the style of management consultants using fixed checklists, nor do we conduct ‘assessments’. The point is to find out about concrete situations and events from the world of the interviewees.

– Interviewers therefore take on the role and attitude of moderators who show curiosity and do not evaluate what is said, but rather keep asking questions in order to find out about images (metaphors) and individual details.

– An important element is to clarify the intention of the story sourcing at the beginning of the interview or conversation: Frame the intervention in the ongoing transformation process and explain that you want to gain insights into the emotional compass of the organization.

– Instead of working through a fixed questionnaire, lead participants to social-emotional prompts, asking them to put themselves in concrete situations. This approach opens up the conversation and allows for open sharing of stories even in a group context.

– Focus the conversation on one, or at most two, prompts. To gain insights into the culture, the following two prompts are particularly useful:

Success – to learn about the principles and mechanisms that work in the organization.

Purpose – to find out what the participants personally care about and what makes the organization “tick” emotionally.

 

Step by step

Step 1 – Preparation:

  • Define/revise questions to fit specific context and purpose.
  • Schedule interviews or group appointments for 60 minutes.
  • Find a quiet place for the virtual or in-person interview.
  • Obtain information about the interviewees and their organization.
  • If more than one interviewer will conduct the interview, agree on roles (primary interviewer, take notes).

Step 2 – Set up for the interview: Before meeting the interviewees, schedule some quiet preparation time or silence, for example 15 minutes – this will open you up to go into the interview with an open mind.

Step 3 – Conduct the interview: Begin the conversation. Use the sample questions below for inspiration, but deviate from them to allow the conversation to develop its own direction. Ask for permission to record the conversation for further, anonymous story sourcing!

Step 4 – Reflect on the interview: Immediately after the interview, take some time to reflect:

  • What stood out to me? What surprised me?
  • What touched me?
  • Is there anything I should follow up on?

Step 5 – Summarize: After all interviews are completed, review the interview data, summarize the story passages, and record them on the story mapping board (see below) if necessary.

Step 6 – Thank you: close the feedback loop and send a thank you note after each interview!

 

Sample questions for story sourcing with employees

– Clarify Intent (example): “We’re working out how people at [your organization] are coping with current challenges, and want to find out what the success factors of our culture are that need to be strengthened in the future.”

– Success prompt: “Do you remember a moment when you had an inner feeling of happiness because you succeeded at something that was not easy to achieve or initially seemed unsolvable? What comes to mind?”

– Purpose-Prompt: “Imagine arriving at work in the morning, and on the way there, a smile sets in because you already feel that what’s going to happen that day really makes sense. It’s a fulfilling day at work. What does a workday like that look like for you?”

– Try asking more in-depth questions about both prompts to learn more about the people involved and the emotions that were at play:

What exactly happened? Which people are important in this context and why?

How does this example demonstrate the best that the organization is currently capable of?

What factors matter to make this example special?

Close the conversation with an outlook on important changes and disruptive elements in the culture.

 

Important aids

Framework

Duration approximately 1 hour (plus some preparation time)
Formatvirtual (e.g., video conference accompanied by virtual whiteboard) or in person
Participantsindividual interviews or in teams (scalable for large groups)

Further information?