Narrative approach to understanding your company

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I just received this email from Nilam at Leeds University Business School the other day as I attended a talk she did at the Reputation Institute Conference two weeks ago:

Dear Nikolaj,

It was good to meet you at the Reputation Institute conference recently and chat briefly about the diary studies that I am conducting with communication practitioners. I enjoyed giving the presentation, though it would be useful to know your thoughts about the methodology and initial themes that were identified.

You mentioned that you had some useful references in organisational identity and narrative analysis. Would you be able to forward these references to me at all? The diary studies and interviews will continue until the end of September, when I can begin to analyse the themes in more depth, so let me know if you want to

be kept informed as to how the research is progressing, and I look forward to hearing from you soon with your thoughts on the research.

By the way, your website is great – I really like the flow and colour.

Best wishes,

Nilam Ashra

Doctoral Researcher in Corporate Communication

…and I’m thinking maybe others than Nilam would be inspired by the discussion. Nilam is conducting research trying to understand how communication practitioners make decisions. What are the real reasons for their actions? And as you might expect the reasons behind the decisions are not always what the communication practitioners (technicians as well as advisors) actually think is right. Navigating in corporate politics, upholding self esteem, pleasing the manager and lots of other reasons tend to be just as much the reason for communication practises as is understanding of the market, the company, the strategy or own ideas about what would be “right”.

At STAGIS we have done quite a few projects where we try to understand what’s going on in the organizational culture, what the beliefs, processes and lived strategies are, rather than just looking at market opportunities. And our method has often been Analytical Narrative Research, meaning interviewing employees and managers in the company and co-creating what really makes sense in the company.

Here is some of the theoretical input you could start with if you’re interested:

Hi Nilam!

Great to hear from you!

I was thinking of you this weekend but didn’t get very far with finding stuff for you. The main source that I’ve used and that I know many others doing qualitative studies are also referring to is Barbara Czarniawska who’s done lots of this stuff. Basically she works with narratives in organizations and in my perspective it does’nt really matter if its spoken or written language. There are several books she’s written and lots of litterature on research where shes represented. Here is one of them:

Image39A Narrative Approach to Organization Studies (Qualitative Research Methods) (Paperback) by Barbara Czarniawska-Joerges (Author)

There are also some german consultants (and academics) that I stumbled on a few years ago at AoM: Schindl Rughase Partners. I am a big fan of their ideas on driving strategy processes and the link to identity-work. They base user-studies on narratives from interviews with users and have proven great success. As I was asking during your talk in Oslo the challenge for Rughase as well as myself is to create an understanding in the company (mostly top-management) which is easier if you can show the text/interview to the managers that need to understand your findings. That is different in your case, of course.

Image5

Identity and Strategy: How Individual Visions Enable the Design of a Market Strategy That Works (Hardcover) by Olaf G. Rughase (Author)

Besides these things we work a lot with blogs as a way of creating a higher degree of cross-organizational internal understanding as well as a more authentic and dialogue-based communication with the stakeholders. And in that sense your project has some similarities (even though yours supports more openness as nobody except you will read it and that has obvious effects on the writers/informants).

Let me know how I can help you further – and yes, I would love to hear more.

Would you mind if I posted your email and my reply on our blog – this might be interesting to others….? In any event, please dont hesitate to share your thoughts there also!

Thanks for your comment on our website – actually it’s not even quite done but we’ve been so bussy over the past year or so that we didn’t find time to get on with it….

Best, Nikolaj