Restorying and the Case of the Sci-Fi Organization
Grace Ann Rosile, New Mexico State University
Academy of Management Presentation 1998

AWhat village in Sicily did your grandfather come from?@ my two-levels up boss asked me, happy to discover that I was not only Italian but Sicilian-Italian on my mother=s side. He seemed surprised and disappointed that I did not know. It was my first job after college. Although it was the pre-Roots era, I was in a heavily ethnic environment, and this was an important question. To this day I do not fully understand, at the bone-level of experience, the nature of such a question. Probably my closest parallel experience (and this is likely true for most of you my audience) would be to ask someone where they did their doctoral work, or with whom they did their dissertation.

It is an important question: Who are you and who are your people? When I participated as a judge last year in the Miss Indian New Mexico State University contest (please do not ask me about the political correctness of such an event) each contestant identified themselves in the traditional Native American way. After giving their names, they gave the names of their mothers and fathers, and told from which clan each parent came. And so it is with storytelling, that the author must identify her- or himself. If I do not know who you are, how can I interpret what you say?

The identity of the author is a critical aspect of storytelling, and it is an aspect which has been assiduously removed from most of those stories we call business cases. Framing our business cases as stories with identities, facilitates the analysis, deconstruction, and application of Arestorying@ change methods. Some of the advantages of the storytelling perspective are discussed below.

Storytelling and story deconstruction can provide insights to enhance traditional business case analysis. A business case example which is told in the first person, may be analyzed and deconstructed from a storytelling perspective (Boje & Dennehy, 1994; Rosile, 1997). Cases which are told from the third person, "omniscient author" perspective, do not lend themselves as readily to such analysis, for the following three reasons. First, third-person language is employed to convey a sense of objectivity and rationality. Such impersonal language contributes to the second obstacle to analysis, our Western logocentrism. This refers to the predominantly Western-world tendency to value rationality and objectivity as being associated with the true and the good, whereas emotionality and subjectivity may be viewed as distorted and bad. The use of impersonal language contributing to the impression of rationality (read "reality") creates the third obstacle, which we commonly call "the facts of the case."

In the game of case analysis, it is only through addressing the relevant "facts" that an "expert" interpretation and solution to the case is possible. Thus, the facts of the case are "givens," assumptions we do not question. In teaching case analysis, one of the first skills the novice learns is how to identify the facts of the case. With this approach, the learning focuses on instrumental knowledge, on the student=s ability to identify the appropriate set of potential solutions to a fairly narrow range of acceptable case problem definitions. In contrast, the storytelling perspective emphasizes undecidability, because the story is just a story, with no pretentions to "scientific fact." Both the storyteller and the listener/reader, are capable of revising the story, of revising history, and re-storying (White & Epston, 1990). Here, the student must think creatively and critically. To some extent, restorying is comparable to revising a business case. Note that revising here is distinguishable from completely rewriting a case. Revising puts the student closer to the status of the author of the case, able to deal with issues at that depth of analysis, yet still having a common starting point or frame of reference to share with fellow students. Further, in this context, even the original author becomes a fellow student of the story, having greater potential to learn from their own creation.

Incorporating aspects of storytelling, story deconstruction, and re-historicizing , Arestorying@ is an approach to organizational change and development, which has been discussed in recent literature (Boje, Rosile, Dennehy, & Summers, 1997; Barry, 1997; Rosile, 1997). Following is an example of restorying methods used to guide a large-scale strategic planning consultation. The case of the SciFi Organization is presented here as a story, to demonstrate both restorying as a theory for guiding organizational consultation and as a method for business case analysis.

The Case of the Sci-Fi Organization

"I grew up never really knowing what my father did, because he worked at SciFi and he wasn=t allowed to talk about it. It was the same for lots of kids around here." Hearing this comment from one of my MBA students, I was beginning to understand the daily lived experiences behind the big sign we saw as we arrived for our first day of interviews at SciFi. Right there on the brick archways housing the armed guards, bold letters prohibited cameras and recording devices. First-day jitters blossomed into a moment of panic. Surely we had mentioned to the general that we had planned to tape record our interviews, hadn=t we? Later we discovered that while others in the past had been forbidden to tape record, no one objected to our doing so. Looking back, shouldn't we have guessed that in this environment of routine secrecy, communication would be a serious problem?

This paper will present the story of SciFi Inc., a high-tech military-related organization of over 2000 people. I, Grace Ann Rosile, am the author of this story version. Over a period of 6 months, my husband David Boje and I, gathered data and conducted a four-day strategic planning organizational consultation involving the top leadership at SciFi. This is the story of how we encouraged SciFi to restory itself. The concepts of storytelling, story deconstruction, and restorying, all were used throughout this process, from the initial data-gathering, through the consultation process and the final report. As story listeners, you will judge how successful we were. You will use your own retelling of this story to explain your conclusions regarding the validity and usefulness of our story methods. Following is part of the story we co-created with the people of SciFi, in the process of researching and consulting with them.

Dear SciFi Leaders:

We have finished a series of 15 interviews, each lasting an hour and a half, with the top leaders of SciFi and we want to write to tell you our discoveries. We appreciate your openness and candor during our interviews. From those interviews we present below a summary of the results most relevant to our first day=s meeting on Wednesday April 23.

First, we present our general assessment of SciFi. You are the people who made possible the joke about the job that "doesn=t take a rocket scientist." Your jobs do require rocket scientists, and you have, as one person said, "the best of the best." You have work areas that look like science fiction movie sets. In spite of budget cuts and the end of the cold war, you had "scud-busters" in place and working within 48 hours during Desert Storm. People enjoy their work so much, that it was reported that they cheerfully arrived at 3am, for no extra pay, to carry out tests. They do "just great...(in spite of) 1950s equipment." You are the premier testing site for DoD. You are proud of your beautiful setting, a Shangri-La-like private valley which you maintain in near "pristine" conditions, protecting your big-horned sheep and herd of wild horses. You are good neighbors, contributing between $1-11/2 million per day to the surrounding local economies. What has disturbed this ideal scene?

According to some, this is the story of people who until very recently were the best and the brightest, they were the solution; now they feel they are treated like they are the problem. Yesterday they were the shining white knights; today they are white elephants. They were scud-busting heroes; now they are budget-busting expense items. What happened between yesterday and today?

SciFi is experiencing trouble and everyone would like to help. There was high agreement that the employees are the greatest strength of SciFi. One person described this strength as: "the devotion of employees toward accomplishing the mission of the range to make things happen successfully; the most technically sound people in DoD." These are the people who worked around the clock during Dessert Storm. Yet, these people with all their years of dedicated experience and expertise were not consulted about the SciFi Inc plan. The approach of having over 60 people in a meeting proved unwieldly, and the strategic planning process was then delegated to three persons. Those persons were chosen for their years of experience and presumed relatively unbiased perspectives. Their recommendations went to the general, who announced the plan in a series of briefings. In retrospect, it appears the workforce and most of the leadership of SciFi believe they had little or no voice in the plan or its implementation. They attended the briefings but did not understand the reasoning and justification behind many of the changes. Thus, to some, it appeared as though "yesterday we were the best workforce and today we are worthless." What happened between yesterday and today?

Using the above case, I (as one of the consultants in the case) will describe how restorying methods were incorporated into data feedback and problem identification processes. I will candidly examine the strong resistance experienced to efforts to guide the organization to restory itself, encouraging audience questions and discussion. I will describe the dramatic successful conclusion to the case, when fellow consultant David Boje introduces a video and triggers an immediate sense of identification. In a scene reminiscent of an evangelical conversion, the top management group Asees the light,@ writes their new story as their strategic plan, and credits David Boje with leading them from confusion to clarity. They are saved.

As the consultants, we attribute our success to our storytelling approach. That is our story. Come to our session and tell us what you think. What is your version of this story?

"Restorying" refers to an approach to organizational change and development whose effectiveness has been documented by several sources, including the current author (White & Epston, 1990; Barry, 1997; Boje et al., 1997; Rosile, 1997; Thompson, 1996). Incorporating aspects of storytelling, story deconstruction, and re-historicizing or restorying, this approach also may be used as an effective adjunct or alternative to traditional business case analysis. This paper presents an example of restorying methods used to guide a large-scale strategic planning consultation. Restorying is presented as the grounded theory guiding change, and also as the basis for a rich adjunct or alternative analytic tool for examining the business case presented here.

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