To Transform Culture, Tap Emotion

What's Your Problem?

Who

Anita Ward, 43, vice president, Cambridge Technology Partners.

What's your problem?

"I know how to get change started — that's the easy part. But how do I make sure that change takes root in an organization's culture?"

Tell me about it

"I've spent years — until recently as a senior vice president at Chase Bank of Texas, now as a vice president at CTP — designing change programs. Most of my initiatives relate to information systems and digital technologies. But for the most part, change isn't technically difficult. It's emotionally difficult. Unless people make it personal and meaningful, it fails to become sustaining. Which is why so many change initiatives are dead on arrival."

What's your solution?

"Campfire stories: They encourage change by making it more human. Campfire stories turn experiences into narratives, people into heroes, and new ideas into enduring traditions.

"I'm an anthropologist by training — but anybody can facilitate a good campfire story. Typically, I invite people to sit down with me in a safe, comfortable setting. I get them to talk about the themes, emotions, and sensibilities that surround change. For example, when I helped launch a diversity initiative, I encouraged people to talk about their early experiences: What was it like to grow up in a Chinese-American family? Then, after I talk with people, I retell their stories to the rest of the organization.

"I start out by publishing each campfire story in as many formats as possible: email, a newsletter, photos, a collaborative database. I also tap into an informal social network by enlisting people whom I call 'tribal elders.' These are people who have strong social bonds — for example, all of the smokers out on a street corner. Tribal elders can help champion and perpetuate a story.

"All of a sudden, change is no longer an abstract business mandate — it's a message embodied in a hero. So the adoption rate goes up, because people like to follow heroes."

Cathy Olofson (cathyo@channel1.com) is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Contact Anita Ward by email (award@ctp.com).

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