The senior vice president of the shared service organization that I work with is retiring after 25 years of service to the company. In a farewell gathering last week to honor his years of service and great accomplishments, 25 selected employees (old and new) took turns to share 25 business lessons learned from our retiring boss. Many of those 25 employees who stood and spoke about the 25 business lessons accompanied them with remarkable stories. They were stories that in many ways embodied the values and meaning of each of the business lessons. Being relatively new to the organization, I felt that the hour and a half of stories and messages provided me a glimpse of the organization’s founding stories, its key tenets, culture and identity. I felt a stronger sense of belongingness and understanding that I know will only help me in how I interact and collaborate with my colleagues.
Stories are powerful messages that shape the organization’s understandings of relationships and of how members deal with the mix of harmony, successes and failures that are always present in the workplace. These are past events that people talk about internally—and even externally. In some cases, leaders choose what stories to tell and immortalize. They are stories that best represent the organization’s values and culture.
Stories can also be critical experiences, major incidents, conflicts and problems that the members of the organization experienced together. The way leaders and members approached, worked through and solved critical experiences help shape the group’s dynamics. The daily actions and decisions of leaders and managers signal appropriate responses to wide-ranging issues. Because of social influence, leaders are the single most important factors and determiners of organizational culture.
Organizational culture is influenced by the leadership style. In other words, the personality, philosophy and experience of the leaders get embodied in its group’s culture. Leaders facilitate the development of organizational culture through different embedding mechanisms that align culture with the organization’s common goal and strategy.