As stories are about communicating, lets look at one specifically written for the topic. I devised this as part of a major change management project in a large public organisation. One of the elements of the change programme was to improve the standards of communication at all levels of the agency. You could guess that individuals all tended to diagnose the problem as belonging " up there " or " down there ". To encourage honest debate, and common ownership of the real issues, the following story was given to the in-house facilitators as part of a toolkit of interventions.
An announcement was made throughout the land. By royal decree, tariffs and quotas were increased. Taxes were raised to prepare against a coming threat. Sacrifices had to be made and the king was sure his subjects would understand, pull together and stick to the plan outlined in the proclamation.
Darkness came upon the faces of the peasants as they heard the news. In shock and anger they murmured amongst themselves, saying " This is a right load of shite. It stinks to high heaven." Brave individuals among the peasants banded together and went to see their landlords to protest about the terms of the proclamation. In deference to the landlords sensibilities they tempered their language, saying " This plan is like a pail of dung and none may abide its smell ".
The landlords considered the complaints of the serfs and decided that a report should be made to the sheriffs. A delegation was duly dispatched and reported that the plan was " to be likened to a container of strong excrement, so strong people are unsure they can bear it ".
The sheriffs, in turn, decided to pass on the comments of the landlords and delegated a senior officer to give account to the minister. The minister was a powerful but sensitive soul, so the sheriff moderated his rhetoric. " The people say the plan is like a vessel of fertilizer, and it is at their limit of tolerance ", he reported. The minister became concerned and went immediately to the Lord Lieutenant, saying " The people say that the plan contains that which aids growth and that it is very strong ".
The Lord Lieutenant weighed this information carefully. Then he instructed his clerks to prepare a submission to the High Council concerning public reaction to the plan. They laboured long and finally he agreed the text of a suitable summary. " The plan is perceived as being strong and likely to stimulate growth ", it said.
On receiving this communication the High Council went into immediate closed session. The ramifications of the message it contained were assessed in focus groups and working parties. Impact studies were undertaken by special advisers, and consultants were employed, to verify the results of the focus groups and the working parties. Public relations experts put together a promotional strategy, and the court magician consulted the entrails of a particularly promising sheep.
Finally a respected facilitator was engaged to assist the Council to pull together all the various groups' results into a strategic document which would inform the ongoing change management scenario. At the seventh re-write of the interim report the High Chamberlain, an aged and confused retainer, mistakenly took the draft report to the King, much to the chagrin of the Council members.
The king eagerly read the management
summary, which was the total content of the draft agreed statement. " This
powerful new plan will actively promote growth and efficiency, reflecting the
king's wisdom and the respect of his subjects ".
" I just love it when a plan comes together ", crowed the king.
The story was well received and had a
beneficial effect. By putting the message into a mythical, therefor
non-threatening, context, it allowed people to identify the problems without
blaming individuals. Stories have the effect of giving permission to think
beyond the immediate boundaries.
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Last Updated December 10th2002 by COLIN J TIERNEY