Organizational Consultation XVII The Chartering Process (Part Two)
Given the credibility and power of actions and stories about actions, the central question becomes: do the patterns of behavior that exist in the current organization accurately mirror patterns contained in the founding stories or are there some major discontinuities? The founding story, after all, is also usually a story about actions that were taken. In the case of founding stories, actions were taken to start a new organization. Furthermore, even the stories about current actions, and even the consultant’s observations of behavior in the present day organization, are filtered through the biases, values, expectations and assumptions of the storyteller and the listener. Both the founding story and contemporary observations are constructed realities, rather than being some ultimate truth about the organization. Therefore, if the founding stories and current reality don’t seem to match, then rich opportunities have opened up for further study and analysis. Why the discontinuity? Do these two accounts reveal two different sets of assumptions about the mission of the organization that are vying for acceptance in the organization? Is the founding story still viable as a reflection of the organization’s mission? Is it instead viable as a vision of what the organization should be?
Another source of information regarding the mission of the organization is contained in its rituals and ceremonies. There has been a growing appreciation of the powerful role that organizational ritual and ceremony can play in the organization. Attention is usually devoted to the ways in which ritual and ceremony reveal something about the norms of the organization. However, these components of the organization’s culture also reveal much about its mission. What is it that the organization is celebrating? The leaders of a corporation with which one of us consults gathers each year to celebrate their slow but steady movement up the Fortune 500 list (“. . .we have moved from 342 to 310!”) Sadly, this organization doesn’t seem to have any sense of mission other than this simplistic measure of organizational growth.
Conversely, one of us has consulted to another organization that celebrates its accomplishments each year by hosting a banquet for all its employees. The executive director and other members of the executive team cook and serve the food. This is a poignant action, for this organization is in the business of providing food to homeless people. The yearly banquet is held to celebrate the organization’s ongoing commitment to the provision of food to those who are hungry. Those members of the homeless community who have served in a leadership role during the past year are invited to the banquet and honored, as are other members of the local community who have contributed time and money to the homeless food project.
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