Isn’t it great when different strands of ideas that you have been pondering come together?

I’ve been thinking for a while about nostalgia in organisations and also about team and individual identity during change. In fact, I’ve written previously about nostalgia and also had a fascinating discussion with Jon Harding on the ChangeStories podcast about his TRIBE model of building shared team identity during organisation change.  Recently, I read a fascinating article by Yiannis Gabriel  that brings all this together.

Nostalgia is the barometer of what is important to people, not a form of resistance

In the article, Professor Gabriel examines the concept of nostalgia in organisations in depth and in particular, highlights the importance and usefulness of examining nostalgia to make sense of what is important to individuals and groups in the organisation.  He says  “…the foci on which nostalgia fixates can give us deep insights into those elements of the present that cause discomfort, anxiety and distress, making nostalgia a useful instrument for the study of individuals and groups.”

How often though, when an organisation is attempting to create change is the past considered?

In my own experience, individuals in an organisation who keep harking back to the past are considered to be blockers of change rather than individuals who can provide useful insights into the present. After all, as Professor Gabriel states, “at a time when ‘innovation, ‘creative destruction’ and ‘disruption’ are lionized as universal virtues, mulling over the past seems deciding passé.”

The past matters…

In organisations, history and the past are often brushed aside as something that is no longer important – this is a subject that I have written about before.  But, it appears that a new approach is needed, one that recognizes the value of returning to the past in order to understand the present and the future.  The history of an organisation is a shared experience for employees and one which shapes how they feel about the organisation and their role within it. When organisations are going through change, individuals and teams can return to the past as a way of maintaining the status quo and coping with changes that they see as “unwelcome and threatening”.

So, next time you are trying to create change and are met with an increasing focus on the past from employees, rather than seeing this as a form of resistance, dig deeper into their nostalgia to understand what is being focused on and how this can help you gain an insight into what matters now.  If we make no attempt to understand the elements of the past that employees value, we cannot take these elements forward into future strategy.

If you want some ideas for questions to ask to help you do this, get in touch.  My ChangeStoriesTM method enables the uncovering of what matters in organisations, including the way that history impacts on the organisation’s ability to change and the way that employees see their identity in the organisations.