The stories we tell and the gaps in between.

Three years and a couple of weeks ago, I wrote something about the stories we tell about ourselves, inspired by two wonderful events that I attended. Recently I was reminded of that post and those events so I thought it was worth revisiting.

The essence of the original post (which you can read here) is this. Every company has a version of itself that it presents to the world: its ‘front garden story’. This story is told through advertising, press releases, brand; it’s the way the company wants to be seen and the values and principles it claims to have. Then there’s the real story that’s experienced inside the organisation: the values that are actually demonstrated, the way people behave, and the inevitable mistakes and lessons learnt. This is the ‘back garden story’ – the unedited, authentic, this-is-how-it-is story. The two stories don’t need to be the same. But there should be an awareness of the gap between the two and what that says about the authenticity of the company.

Last week, the idea of front garden and back garden stories resurfaced in my mind as I was looking at the results and outputs of Don Taylor’s 2016 Global Sentiment SurveyConsulting with the business ranked very highly as a ‘hot topic’ for 2016 amongst L&D professionals. But Showing value and Developing the L&D function have slipped down the rankings since last year. Consulting with the business was also ranked first or second significantly less often than the other topics in the top five. As Don pointed out in the webinar linked to in his blog post, this is problematic. How can we achieve our goal of consulting more deeply with the business if we aren’t developing the skills to make it happen?

I wonder if these results signify a gap between L&D’s front garden and back garden stories. We talk a good talk about business consulting, we claim it to be one of our top priorities and critical for our ongoing success. But, behind the scenes, we perhaps aren’t as committed to making it happen as our front garden stories suggest. And the risk there, of course, is that other people in other parts of the business will notice the gap and question our sincerity and authenticity. This in turn makes it even more difficult for us to build the deep relationships we want to build, to consult and partner with our colleagues across the business.

What do you think: is this too cynical a view, or do we need to take a good, honest look at the stories we tell about ourselves?

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