A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production
Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach. Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.
The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Dr. Bruce Pereira, Learning Experience Design Lead
Sylvain Rochon: Hello, welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at CykoMetrix, a leading-edge combinatorial, psychometric, and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.
Today, in the Spotlight we have Dr. Bruce Pereira. He’s a learning experience design lead in the US in Boston. He has trained and worked as a highly specialized clinical psychologist in the UK National Health Service with a primary focus on narrative relational and systemic approaches. His doctoral research explored how people make sense of and negotiate meaning through relationships, and the impact that narratives have on behavior, relational continuity, and assessment making. His post-doctoral studies explore leadership and how organizational narratives derive and maintain toxic leadership culture and behavior.
Today, he drives organizational change through storytelling, behavioral science, leadership, and narrative coaching. He helps leaders to develop personal and organizational storytelling capacities, strategies, and approaches. He has deep functional experience in organizational culture change leadership, HR transformation leadership development, and storytelling. He works as a storytelling subject matter expert and learning executive at a global professional services organization.
This is Bruce. I’m really happy for you to be here. Thank you for being part of the spotlight.
Dr Bruce Pereira: Thank you. Well, thank you very much for having me.
Sylvain: Excellent. Now, I’m a storyteller myself. I’ve always written a lot. I understand some of the value of storytelling in culture just because of the art itself. Now, my first question would be about the basics. You mentioned that storytelling can be used as a way to affect change, and be a change agent as an individual. What does that mean to be a change agent?
Bruce: Sure. To be a change agent it’s really about, from a narrative perspective, thinking about how might you get people to think differently. How might you invite them to think differently, and acknowledge how things might be? If I were to use a metaphor, think about that as a pebble and when we take a pebble and we throw it in a lake, there are going to be multiple ripples that go through.
That’s what it means to be a change agent. It means that you are inviting people to think differently, inviting people to question what might be there, and what might not be there. Think about dominant narratives, think about what might be hidden. Also, think about what are the existing stories and narratives voices, or positions that we tend to flock to, and those that we tend to avoid.
Sylvain: That’s excellent. I think by your definition, everybody wants to be a change agent in their own world to affect change and influence others in many ways, the pebble in the pond idea.
Sylvain: Or butterfly wings. I have seen different analogies for that. How does storytelling help being a change agent? How does that fit in?
Bruce: Well, I think there are so many different ways to think about this. Storytelling really is a way for people to connect deeply with other people. When you connect deeply with other people, we’re talking about trust-based relationships. We’re talking about creating a shared sense of meaning, understanding the lived experience of what it’s like versus maybe what an organization or leader might say it’s like. It’s really about how we connect with people.
How do we truly understand what’s important to them, and how do we elicit those stories and narratives that sometimes might support the dominant narratives and sometimes might give light to those dominant narratives, might not always be a hundred percent accurate, right? Storytelling, I feel, is a way to change the conversation. It’s a way to have safe conversations about things that we tend to not want to acknowledge, things that we tend to like to brush under the carpet.
It’s a way for us to really explore those and it’s a sense-making thing. In that community of sense-making and understanding, we’re starting to create that new shared meaning, but that also stems from the fact that storytelling allows us to address the things that we don’t usually want to address and it does it in a safe way, right? Change needs to happen. Well, change can only rarely happen once we know what they experience and what those stories are, and we acknowledge and respect them, right?
Change doesn’t happen by simply doing more of the same. It really is about getting understanding of what’s going on deeply, right? Not just at the surface level, what we hear and see every day, but what artifacts are there for us. There are clues that things might be different from the dominant narratives. Once you are there, once you explore them and you work with people to understand what it means for them, you are in a much better position to actually know what culture is to the people.
Sylvain: Yeah, storytelling is powerful in most cultures, and in many ways, right? It’s agreed upon that most cultures have inherent stories and that brings me to the idea that we have these broad cultural stories that we tend to leverage and live with by being raised within each individual culture. Then there are more contemporary stories that evolve as we make our own stories with our families, friends, colleagues, and so on.
Each individual is exposed to a certain amount of stories throughout their life, they’re going to vary from geography to geography, from family to family. There are a variety of stories out there. Not everybody’s exposed to the same ones, ultimately. How do you guide the storytelling in a practical way within, let’s say, an environment like a workplace to affect specific change that you want to achieve?
Bruce: Right. I think that you first need to acknowledge all of those stories around there. In organizations, we tend to think that everybody else thinks just like us, or should think just like us. I think that your starting point is to acknowledge that there is so much variety and difference and diversity in how people experience and think about the world themselves, others, their workplace, and what their expectations are. I think you start from there.
You need to go out to your end users, whether those are colleagues or clients, and really start to understand how they create sense. How did they create meaning? That can be as simple as eliciting people’s stories, right? Tell me about a time when and tell me how did you experience this. What did this mean to you? These are very basic interviewing techniques. I think we need to probably take a much broader step and just really understand and locate storytelling within systems thinking, which means that all of those stories are equally valid.
Now, not all of the stories will be optional, and they may not all work out very well, but every person’s story is valid because they all live in operating systems where those stories make sense and there are trans historical stories that we inherit, and we don’t question. We simply take them on and we see people play those out either as leaders or peers or colleagues or organizations as a whole, right? I think part of it is to really just help people understand the impact of stories and what stories are. Stories might not necessarily be telling you how to create a story, which is where I think a lot of organizations really focus their efforts.
I think that really shows the maturity level of where they are in their storytelling journey and there’s no challenge to that, right? You have to start somewhere and everything needs to be a story so you can learn how to create them. If you’re looking for a change, you need to move beyond how to create good stories and understand people dynamics, behavior change, and change management. These are basics that you can draw from understanding how people make sense and create.
Some practical thing is, number one, ask them questions. Take an interest, and be curious. Don’t be defensive. You can run, for example, design thinking sessions, right? Where you are inviting people that you want to know something. Do exploratory research, right? Ask them questions. You can go in with a structured interview. You can go semi-structured, or you can go unstructured and just see how it plays out.
All of those offers really key insights into where people are at, and culture change is all about understanding where people are at. You’ve got to start where they’re at. You have to meet them where they are and you need to acknowledge that it’s very often not the same place where an organization thinks they’re at or says they’re at, right?
Bruce: Part of it is eliciting those conversations from your end users. But the other practical side is also having courageous and brave conversations with existing leaders about why that’s important. What might come out? How might you handle that? What happens when it’s different from your viewpoint, right? I think you work on both sides of working with the end users, but also talking about these much broader conversations of, how do you handle when your employees might say, your culture’s not how you say it is, or how you hope it is, right?
Working with them and coaching them on the validity of all those stories. How do we move forward from that? Another practical thing is once you have elicited those stories and good conversation, you’re obviously getting people to maybe take sticky notes and create meaning by doing some of those brainstorming things, responding to those questions, you can then as a group cluster them, which is a second level of creating that meaning we’re moving now to a broad and narrative approach, right?
You then want to validate and check with the whole audience that it still resonates, right? Because we’ve now gone from an individual story level out to a narrative level, so you are losing some level of you moving up a level of abstraction. You want to check that it still resonates with everyone. You can then move on and map all of those narratives out into a narrative map, for example, so you can now see the whole layer of that through this, you might see trends and patterns.
You might be able to notice certainly what’s missing, where are the gaps in those, right? What are the things that you would expect to see, one of the things that are flashing that you didn’t expect to see? It’s not just about getting to the process, it’s also about the process of reflection, which is very important to narrative storytelling work. That’s a deep part of understanding and creating that shared meaning in those sessions. You want to really start to talk about, “Hey, I noticed that when we talked about this, it felt a little uncomfortable.”
What’s that about? What do you think that’s about? How can we think about that? What might it be like for your leaders to hear this? We start to bring in narrative and systemic ideas about building deep empathy and relational reflexivity – what it must be like for other people. You can start to see that all those narratives start to swirl together if, for a lack of a better way to start to create a true meaning and a narrative map. You’ve gone from individual story level up to narratives, up to this general shared sense of meaning, and it’s there that you can start to truly see what can you do about it.
You can then start to check with people, “Hey, how might you deal with this?” Right? Go back to the end users. You’ve told us your stories, you’ve got to the point of helping us understand what it’s like. Now, tell us, how might we solve this, right? Rather than us taking it back to leadership and solving this in the leadership ivory tower.
Sylvain: Very interesting. I’d like you, if you may, to explain how this works in a practical case, maybe a past consulting endeavor. How do you integrate yourself into the organization and help them develop these attitudes and stories and to the change that they’re seeking? Because normally, I suspect your clients would say, “This is the type of change we’re looking for so help us.” Then you go in and you do something. Can you give us an example?
Bruce: Yeah, sure. I recently just talked at a global conference about an example. I think this very much speaks to some of our broader narratives around adaptive change and technical change and all of those pieces. I think that response comes in, “Could you please develop a framework for feedback?” Now, that seems very easy, right? But you’ve got to take a step back as a narrative person and think, well, there might be a hundred ways of doing feedback that already exists in the organization so, from a narrative perspective, we want to do our research and understand what those are, first, right?
Collect them, and seek to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and where the opportunities are because we want to just continue to give technical solutions, right? But the technical solutions are already there, so why do we need another one? So that’s the first brave conversation you need to have with anybody. It’s like, I could simply say, “Yes, we can certainly do that, and I wonder if we want to think about how come we need a new one? That’s a brave conversation to have because most people will simply say yes to it and we’ll get to that.
Then it’s about talking with people and just eliciting their ideas about feedback. Feedback – there are million one different narratives around feedback – good, bad, ugly, and everything in between, right? We all come to it with our own experiences. Those narratives are built into us from our own experiences, from our previous jobs, and from previous leaders’ very dominant narratives and organizations about the importance and it is feedback is fundamental to growth and development and success, we know that.
Yet we also know that very often it’s not very meaningful. What better place to start questioning? Why do we need something new, right? That’s the first step, that courageous brave conversation. The next step is to start doing the research, internal and external on what’s actually being said. Start to collect the narratives, the stories about feedback. Start to see what resonates with your organization, what doesn’t, and what stands apart, right? What tends to feel like it’s quite healthy and works, right? What tends to be like, “Ooh, that just doesn’t seem quite right.” Right?
You need to start to have those conversations and do the research. I think once you’ve done that, you need to start to assemble your team, right? Who is going to do that? I think for a narrative perspective and cultural change, it’s really important to have people that think differently. Diversity of thought and experience is so important. We don’t want group thought. We don’t want people who are necessarily going to be a hundred percent supporting the current dominant narratives. Then you ask them, to tell me your experience of receiving and giving feedback in your current role.
It’s very broad and people want to share, right? You’ve created a safe space, you’ve created authentic, curious requests from people. You’re connecting with people to understand their stories and experience, and people reward you by telling you their stories, and you can see that as that happens in a group setting, there’s more and more momentum because people are saying, “Ah, that resonates with me.” Or they say, “Oh, that’s not my experience.” So, you start to have very meaningful, interesting conversations, right? Those are the practical pieces and so I think sometimes people want to focus on action.
Give me something, give me something, give me something. I would say from a narrative and systemic perspective, change is all about acknowledging the stories, understanding the stories, and respecting that process, reflectively, that’s where change happens, right? The rest of it can come later and once you move through the narrative clustering and narrative mapping and talking about what might suit, you’ll notice that a lot of people are still focusing on technical solutions.
But actually, it’s really more about having adaptive conversations. Part of the intervention of narrative storytelling and culture work doesn’t happen at the end. It starts from the very moment you start to ask people questions because you’re giving them permission to be authentic and to share their stories, which generally they don’t have the space or the psychological safety or whatever it might be. To share that, so automatically you’re inviting people to think differently.
Then through facilitating those conversations, remember that everything is valid, right? Even if it doesn’t match your own worldview, it’s a valid story because someone’s experienced that and you try to work with people and talk with them. I think part of that, remember it’s the pebble. I’m not handing over a feedback framework. I’m throwing a pebble right from the moment that I get a request to say, “Do we really need something? Let’s talk about that. Why now? Why now? Why this? Then from the moment you start working with the people themselves, you’re asking questions in a way that is very curious, right?
Non-judgmental, and you’re eliciting real stories, real experience and that’s unusual to people. A lot of people can be very guarded in organizations. We all know the rules and culture by which we live. There is a lot of what does that mean? So, you give people an opportunity to explore the stories, and then you start to dig a little deeper about what that means for them. You start to understand the connections between people. How might we start to already think about the next level of what might this look like? How might we take that one personal story and insight into something that’s going to be super impactful?
I think part of this narrative storytelling is that courageous questioning, being very curious, being very open and transparent and I think the intervention itself is throughout the whole process. It’s not just handing something over. So, once you’ve done those sessions, right, part of the conversation is going back to the request and saying, “Hey, look these are the whole range of feedback frameworks that are already in existence.”
These are the ones that I would recommend based on the research that we’ve done and I think it’s really important that we think about a much broader framework. Let’s talk about leadership, right? How might leadership support communications and engagement with people? How might we message things differently that might be different based on the research that we’ve just found? We want to be thinking about how we might enable people. It’s no longer just handing over a new framework.
It’s about thinking through that research. Where are people struggling? What’s working for them? What’s not? Then start to put together and curate learning pathways, for example, where we can enable and empower people in those areas that they found really challenging. Part of that is addressing very directly, the ideas of feedback and being very explicit because culture is not that explicit, although it is, right?
Behaviors; all those things are very explicit, but sometimes those rules are less explicit. Narrative storytelling is about bringing those to the fore and talking about them. Remember acknowledging that’s the existence and thinking about what the impact might be, whether that’s good or bad. Those are the conversations where change happens and then obviously, we work on the leadership messaging. We work on enablement. We can put all those packages through. It’s also about really upskilling, and enabling people on relationship management.
How do you manage relationships in a healthy way? These all, again, stem from narrative methods, and had we just done something in a very traditional way, we would’ve just focused on solving a problem creating a new framework, and then being done, right? But actually, what we’ve done is a framework that encapsulates something that really is an invitation to have a different conversation and get everybody thinking in a more meaningful way.
Sylvain: As you said, you’re essentially creating through your exercises and processes. A good process and a way of thinking, right? That can be used to affect more change later on.
Sylvain: A new way of thinking, or doing things. But my question is if the client has a specific idea where the changes need to go or what ideologies because I’m sure that comes up often – we want our team to better fit the corporate culture we have on a piece of paper somewhere, or whatever that may be. How do you adapt that whole process to achieve a dictated required goal by a client?
Bruce: I think that’s a really interesting question. Even that alone stems or talks to some client-dominant narratives around how we might respond, right? Clients are always right, or leaders are the experts or do as you’re told. There are lots of things, right? I think you asked me earlier about the definition of a catalyst change catalyst, that’s exactly it, right? As an expert advisor. My job is to advise you on what I think is the best course of action. That’s not necessarily to deliver exactly what you want, but we need to be able to have those difficult conversations where we can talk about, “Hey, we can deliver this and the impact of this is this, and we can also deliver this, and this extra piece annual impact will be exponential.”
It’s never saying, “Hey, I’m not going to deliver what you asked for.” But it’s being very curious, it’s about throwing the pebble, and seeing how they respond, right? Some may just say, “Hey, I want that, and then you just do that,” Right? But I think as an advisor, we always want to be advising people on maybe best practice or something that might have a much larger exponential impact or really talking about, “Hey, this might not necessarily bring the change that you’re looking for.” I think that stems from firstly, those brave, courageous conversations, understanding organizational politics, and how all those narratives and stories are created and maintained.
There are a lot of them within the organizational culture and being brave enough to do that. But I think also being confident enough and being able to talk about what that value looks like, right? If you can’t describe what you might get at the end of this, then they’re obviously not going to take it on. But if you are talking about, “Hey, in addition to a framework, you’re going to have a deep understanding of the people that you lead. You’re going to give them an opportunity to share their experience and stories, which we can then learn from,” Right? Connect better with them, and we can deliver things that truly matter to your people.
I would say it would be hard for us, for any leader at that point to say, I’m not interested, right? But I think narratives and storytelling are all about being aware of your context and how that creates meaning and being aware of your audience. I think that you need to be brave and yet sensitive and also know when delivering standard technical solutions might be it. When do you want to have those conversations that are much broader plus one ad, right?
Sylvain: You talk about standard technical solutions, and that brings to mind a bit what we do, which is the psychometric assessments, being data-driven. I wonder if you use such tools as part of your assessing a group, or team leadership, or do you only use the discussions and interview methods, or a mix of both?
Bruce: In my current role, I guess I don’t typically use any technical assessments. My role is really about connecting with people understanding their perspectives and drawing insights from those previously and other leadership roles. When I was a clinical psychologist, I exclusively used loads of different types of assessments. I think even then we need to have really broad conversations about how to use those, the importance of those having been a clinical psychologist I do sometimes look and I’m like, “Oh, that might not necessarily be the best way to administer that, or those norms might not be the best.”
It’s about choosing the right tools for the right thing and then having experts like yourself and your organization to be able to work through that because I do think that again, right? Once you start to think narrative and storytelling, there are existing stories within corporate organizations about the utility of psychometric testing, for example. Those very rarely talk about the ethics of using those and how to use them, right?
It’s just really interesting that we could talk about anything and there’s already a narrative correlation that might say, “Well, hold on, we might want to look at that a little closer in particular situations.” I’m all for using psychometric assessments in the work environment. I think it helps fundamentally some really important insights. I think it’s really helpful for organizations to have that. I guess one of my challenges is when we think about, say, skills.
How stable are the skills, and if you are doing a psychometric assessment around skills, for example, how long does that last, right? We all have an ethical responsibility to have conversations with organizations and people who are making those decisions about what ethical use is. How frequently do we need to test what that actually means, right? A lot of that stuff might be a snapshot of a moment in time and how might we update those? I think it’s just really interesting in general, I did write an article a few years ago around psychometric testing in recruiting, for example.
There is a space for lots of testing and it could give us very valid information. I think we just need to be aware of the dominant narratives around testing in organizations and what that means for the people being tested, right?
Sylvain: Yeah. Perception is everything. That’s an important point. The assessments themselves, whether they are electronic, paper or a person doing an interview, their value is in how they’re being used and how the answers are being interpreted. Data is just numbers. The interpretation can harm or do good depending on what you’re doing. It’s always about the old idiom, right? Use of the right tool for the right job.
Bruce: Right. Also, know the limits of that. This is a contract that you’re having with people around, delving into what can be considered very personal information. How do we manage and negotiate those contracts? How do we manage and negotiate those people’s contracts? What that might mean for them. I think that’s really important. When you talked about data, I said there’s a correlation or link to everything, data in storytelling is so valid, right?
In organizations, how do we use data in our stories? Whether it’s about testing or anything else is really important, right? Are you using the full sample of data? How explicit are you? Are you focusing only on those pieces that really support the way that you think about the world? What do you do with those pieces or those data outliers that suggest things are all different. How are people, for lack of a better phrase, slicing and dicing data to support their goals? It’s really important for us as leaders and change agents, and narrative coaches to think about data. We need to be able to talk about how important is the data.
Then we need to know how to use data to support and validate what we’re doing. I think that’s very important because I think that directs how we use data in the ethics of that because you can look at any piece of data and slice and dice in any way and say a program has been successful, but if you truly delve down into a lot of data, there’s probably a lot of outlined data to suggest that it might not be the exact way it is.
This is one of the absolute beauties about then having those conversations because you start to notice that maybe your quantitative data reflects a very different story to what the lived experience story data is saying, right? Somehow you need to have again, that courageous conversation saying, “Your numbers look fantastic, and if I was looking at this, we don’t need to change anything. However, your people are saying something entirely different.” Right? Again, just broader narratives and dominant narratives and organizations, right? The dichotomy or paradox of valuing numbers over a qualitative experience is something that storytelling itself addresses.
Sylvain: Absolutely, fascinating. Well, Bruce, I think we should just call on everybody watching here to just contact you for help because that seems wonderful. It’s a very different approach from most of the interviews I’ve made because usually, they’re using more traditional methods to consult and to help people. Storytelling is fundamental to every culture, so that’s a brilliant approach.
Guys, if you want to have Bruce’s help you know where to find him. I’m putting up a link for his LinkedIn. He’s very responsive on there and he’s going to tell you how he can help your organization grow, improve, by exchanging and sharing their stories, right?
Sylvain: Thank you so much for participating. Yeah.
Bruce: Thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate it. I guess my parting thought would be, when we are thinking about cultural change that needs adaptive conversations, it doesn’t need the same technical solutions and it doesn’t need us continuing to regurgitate the same dominant narratives that we know might not work. It’s really an invitation for us to think differently and then do something differently. I really appreciate it. Please feel free to reach out to me, I should say. Really great to be here to talk with you today.
Sylvain: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Bruce: You’re welcome. Thank you.
About Dr. Bruce Pereira– www.linkedin.com/in/drbrucepereira
Dr. Bruce Pereira trained and worked as a highly specialist clinical psychologist in the UK National Health Service with a primary focus on narrative, relational and systemic approaches.
His Doctoral research explored how people make sense of and negotiate meaning through relationships and the impact that narratives have on behavior, relational continuity and sense making.
His Post doctoral studies explored leadership and how organizational narratives drive and maintain toxic leadership culture & behavior. Today he drives organizational change through Storytelling; Behavioral Science; and Leadership & Narrative Coaching.
He helps leaders to develop personal and organizational storytelling capacity, strategies and approaches. He has deep functional experience in organizational culture, change leadership, HR transformation, leadership development and storytelling. He works as a Storytelling Subject Matter Expert and Learning Executive at a global professional services organization.
About CykoMetrix – www.CykoMetrix.com
CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.