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Stories about Values and Valuable Stories: A Field Experiment of the Power of Narratives to Shape Newcomers’ Actions

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This study draws on social identity theories of behavioral contagion and research concerning narratives in organizations to present and test a framework for understanding how narratives embed values in organizational newcomers' actions. Employing a field experiment using 632 newly-hired employees in a large IT firm that prioritizes self-transcendent values, this study explores how narratives varying in terms of the organizational level of main characters and the values-upholding or values-violating behaviors of those characters influence newcomers' tendencies to engage in behaviors that uphold or deviate from the values. Results indicate that stories about low-level organizational characters engaging in values-upholding behaviors are more positively associated with self-transcendent, helping behaviors and negatively associated with deviant behaviors, than are similar stories about high-level members of the organization. Stories in which high-level members of the organization violate values are negatively related to newcomers' engagement in both helping and deviance more strongly than are values-violating stories about lower-level members. Content analyses of the stories suggest that they convey values in different and potentially important ways. Implications, future directions, and limitations are discussed.
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... One potentially promising avenue lies in the use of self-narratives: the stories individuals construct to make sense of their world (McAdams, 2001). 1 Emerging theory and research on self-narratives suggest that processes of storytelling alter the ways in which individuals interpret their prior experiences, providing a vehicle for reframing, reflecting on, and deriving meaning from experiences (Sherman et al., 2013). Stories also feature frequently in individuals' work and performance experiences, and have been used in organizations as tools for imparting knowledge about what is valued (Martin, 2016) and motivating employees to perform their job more effectively (Grant, 2008). From this perspective, self-narratives may ameliorate the threat of prior experiences of discrimination in reducing individuals' performance efficacy. ...
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