November 9, 2018
Written by: Scott Williamson
Excerpted from a story by Monique Valcour and John McNulty in HBR, August 24, 2018
Humans crave coherence. We want to be true to ourselves and to act in a way that’s consistent with what we believe and value. We want to live and work authentically. This quest for coherence is hardwired; psychologists often refer to human beings as “meaning-making machines.” Our brains create coherence by knitting together our internal experiences and what we observe in our environment through an automatic process of narration that explains why we and others do what we do. As we repeat the resulting stories to ourselves (often unconsciously), they become scripts and routines that guide our actions. And instead of recognizing our stories for the constructions they are, we may mistakenly interpret them as truths, as “the way things are.”
Stories shape the way we think and lead. Do you ever say to yourself, “Everything is always a battle around here” or “Why doesn’t anyone care about wasting money?” For better or for worse, our stories shape what we notice and how we interpret it. They inform our decision making and behavior. If, for instance, you see your workplace as a battlefield, you expect hostility. You’re primed to attack and defend. You may assume that casualties are inevitable. You may misinterpret people’s intentions and overlook opportunities to collaborate. There may come a time when you need to shift your guiding story to one that enables you to pursue new goals or do things differently.
Step 1) Identify and examine the stories you tell yourself and others.
- Identify a challenge you’re facing. What is the basic story you tell yourself about this issue?
Step 2) Determine how your story affects you. Is it constraining or liberating?
- In organizations, shared experiences and stories work as control mechanisms that tell employees what to value and how to behave…are these corporate stories really your stories?
Step 3) If you find that one of your guiding stories limits you, the next step is to consider what you’d like to change and how your story would need to shift to help you achieve the transition.
Once we realize that our behavior stems from stories we construct and repeat until they seem fixed in stone, we become more capable of authoring liberating stories. Reconstituting our stories so that they help us move in the direction we want to go is a process of choice and intentional sense-making. Any leader can begin to develop this powerful skill by learning to recognize the stories you live by — individually and collectively as a team or organization — examining their effects and refining them to emphasize empowering elements. The rewards of doing so include an increased sense of humanity, coherence, and liberation.
Satisfaction with our jobs is deeply rooted in a coherent confluence of our personal stories and our employer’s demonstrated mission, vision and values. When these are all aligned, we enjoy going to work. When these fall out of alignment, then work starts to become a struggle, and we face internal conflict. Something will change: the stories we tell ourselves, the culture of our organization, or our place of employment. Try to recognize your own stories and evaluate how well they align with your place of employment.
Scott Williamson, MBA, CAE(ret), is the Executive Director of the OPIE Choice Network. He founded and is President of Quality Outcomes, LLC., a company dedicated to establishing a consensus building approach to identify broad-based Orthotic and Prosthetic (O&P) outcomes data to identify and teach professional best practices. Scott was recently certified in Lean Six Sigma.
Scott is a member of the National Quality Forum and is active on the Quality Measures Research Council. In addition, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Orthotic and Prosthetic Learning, he is a member of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and is past-chair of the Healthcare Knowledge Taskforce for ASAE. He is the President of OPAF and is Treasurer of the Pedorthic Research Foundation Board of Directors. He has worked in professional certification since 1992, and most recently worked for the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics, Inc. (ABC) from 2002 – 2010 as the Director of Facility Accreditation. In that position he played a key role in establishing and maintaining the national standards for quality O&P care. Scott has been a key liaison between the O&P profession and CMS during the development of the CMS Quality Standards and their mandatory accreditation program. In 1995, Scott earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Richmond and his undergraduate degree is in Management Economics from Hampden~Sydney College. While earning his MBA, Scott worked for MWH MediCorp (a hospital holding company) where he developed and maintained billing and performance data and was responsible for corporate safety and security. In 2005 Scott earned his Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Scott is a frequent speaker on value-based healthcare and its impact on the provision of O&P services, as well as business process improvement and change management in a small practice setting. He has taught DMEPOS accreditation processes and standards and explained the CMS Quality Standards. Scott, his wife, Colleen and daughter Nicole live in Fredericksburg, Virginia.