Transition Tales. (Or make sure you wipe your feet!)
I have recently been involved in an organisation where the staff and the business have been split up into two separate companies. As I spoke to the people involved, it was interesting to hear what stories they were creating to make sense of this move and find a way to go forward.
It also became very apparent that some people were carrying old stories forward into the new companies. Some of these were negative stories that could hinder them from developing, that carried anger and hurt. This got me thinking about transition tales and the need for organisations to provide some form of 'decompression chamber' for new staff or new students. I have also recently lead and developed a system around onboarding and the importance of creating a 'welcome narrative.' For me these two issues are very connected. Let me explain.
Think back to a job or a relationship you had, where you were treated pretty badly. Perhaps you were spoken-over, not acknowledge when you had put in extra effort, taken for granted, had little or no feed-back, etc. Now think of the next job or relationship that came along after and how this previous experience impacted on how you greeted your new position or partner. Were you less trusting? More judgemental? Were you thinking thoughts like, "I will not let them bloody take me for granted this time," "I am gonna kick back here, why bother when no one notices," "I am gonna prove to him/her that they cannot treat me like that." If so, how much of this helped you and how much just meant you brought a lot of heavy shit into your new position that stopped you stepping forward to give, or stopped you receiving gifts that were being offered?
I know in some of my previous relationships I have been hyper-aware of anything that could be perceived as controlling, (even though many comments or actions were not) based on previous narratives I have lived through. If I thought someone was trying to control me I would withdraw into a state of stony silence and passive aggression. This was not healthy or useful and it also meant, in some sense, that the control of that one particular person was still following me and I was still within that narrative. I believe that if we are doing stuff to prove others wrong, to show them that they are not important to us anymore, that we do not care about them, well, they are still important to us and we are giving them time and energy they do not deserve. If we are going to do something, we should be doing it because WE want to, WE delight in it, it will give US joy and possibility.
So what can organisations do to alleviate the impact of new employees carrying negative narratives into the new workplace? I think it has to be linked into the onboarding process or for students, into their transition classes. There needs to be a space for the new recruits to unpack their narrative luggage. They need a space to look at what stories are they carrying, where did these stories come from, what stories do they want in the new workplace and how these meet up and impact on each other. I often create an exercise where people write down the positive and negative stories in short notes. They are then invited to share any that they wish and talk about them. Individuals then make a decision over what stories they want to leave behind, what stories will not help them grow and develop. We then have a small fire and we burn those stories. Afterwards there is such a sense of relief and a great sense of togetherness within the group. Individuals keep the stories they want to happen and the team makes an agreement to try and help each other develop these stories in the new workplace. It is a powerful exercise.
So next time you are in a time of transition, make sure you are conscious of what stories you are carrying with you. If they are shitty, well wipe your feet!