David Mansell, creative consultant at Tribe Culture Change, talks to SHP about his career in television, why he believes storytelling and safety go hand in hand, and looks forward to the dramatic presentation of Tribe, which he wrote and which is the first of its kind, taking place at Safety & Health Expo in May.
David’s background is in screenwriting and television production, previous roles have included behind the scenes work, script editing, producing and directing shows like Casualty, EastEnders and Coronation Street . David now uses his skills and experience to encourage companies to embrace the power of history to influence positive change in culture.
Engaging People at Work: From Coronation Street to Culture Change
Can you start by giving our readers an overview of your career so far, what influenced this shift in your career from TV to culture change?
David Mansell (DM): “I started my career working in theater management before moving into a more creative role in television – and have worked on shows like ‘Casualty’, ‘EastEnders’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Red Rock’, ‘Holby City’ and ‘Coronation Street.’I straddled a number of roles on these shows, from script editor to producer and finally director.
“Throughout that time, I’ve spent a lot of my time with writers, learning how stories work. I took the leap into culture change in 2019 because I saw Tribe have a real impact on the lives, health and well-being of people in the organizations they worked with…and maybe even saving lives along the way.
“That’s what brought me to work in this field – it was knowing that the work we do ‘means something’. I recently made a film on suicide prevention for one of our clients…illustrating how we can all learn to spot the signs that someone might be having suicidal thoughts, have open conversations and help someone at risk to stay safe.
“If this movie only saves one life, then every moment of the effort was worth it.”
Can you summarize the main philosophy of Tribe, what do you hope to achieve through your performances?
(DM): “We work with companies to support them on their journey of culture change and to build the momentum needed to sustain it over the long term. It’s really about identifying their “journey of change”… or, in other words, understanding what their story is. There is no magic wand that can be waved at a company to suddenly solve all of its problems overnight, but the use of history is a tool that can (when used correctly) be effective. to solve his problems.
“Tribe’s approach begins when we conduct a culture assessment, and the results of that assessment determine the approach to creating a tailored program for a culture change program in an organization. Part of this program may include the use of stories in workshops – and this can be a film, or a live theater performance, or an interactive exercise that has storytelling elements firmly embedded in. That’s because we know a great story will engage the emotional part of a person’s brain – not just the retina. And so, the message stays with you…because it makes you feel something. We help our clients find positive examples of behaviors and good news about safety…and help them tell those stories in memorable ways, find the moral of the story, and inspire others to repeat excellence.
“Essentially, health, safety and well-being doesn’t have to be dry. Through unique vision and creative engagement, we help organizations embark on a journey towards a happier, healthier and safer work culture. To Safety and Health Fair, this performance will showcase one of many tools in our toolkit to help organizations achieve this goal. It won’t just be a passive performance, there will be audience involvement – but not like a panto where you get hoisted onto the stage!
Your play at Safety & Health Expo will be about health and well-being at work, what research did you conduct on the issue before writing the play, did you draw inspiration from your personal experience/that of other people involved in the creative process?
(DM): “Mental health and wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important part of the work we do with our clients, and rightly so. Certainly, since the pandemic, mental health has been in the spotlight, with companies looking long and hard at what they can do to help their employees cope with all that life has thrown at us over the past two last years.
“During the pandemic, we spoke to many leaders to find out about the health, safety and well-being issues they were facing. This information formed the basis of a series of reports we have published on how leaders should respond to the unprecedented times we have found ourselves in.
“It’s no surprise that the negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce has been one of the most pressing issues.
“We are increasingly working with our clients on how to support their employees with mental health and wellbeing. From making movies about suicide prevention to dramas about burnout and stress, our work in this area is becoming more and more important to me.
When did you first realize that storytelling could be an effective method of engaging people at work? What experience triggered this realization?
(DM): “The archetypal story structure (as commonly used in movies, literature, songs) is based on a character’s emotional journey (i.e. a character can do something at the end of a story that he can’t do at the beginning), they are causal (something happens because of something else) and the main character “wants” something (to kill the giant shark, s ‘escape from Dunkirk, catch the serial killer) This reflects many of the patterns we experience in life…and why it resonates with us when used in the workplace.
“Stories can create ‘sticky’ memories by attaching emotions to things we witness or experience. We fear the big bad wolf who threatens Little Red Riding Hood. We are amused by Basil Fawlty’s antics. We are saddened by “Titanic”. We are thrilled by James Bond as he hunts down a super-villain. We remember them precisely because they elicit strong emotional responses. If we are truly swept up in a story, it makes us more likely to embrace the ideals and messages it promotes.
“We also remember stories because of a ‘journey of change’. We love to hear stories about someone being bullied triumphing over their bully…or someone having bad luck winning the lottery…or, a husband or wife breaking free from their cheating partner . These are all stories of transformation. I talked about a character being able to do something at the end of a story that they can’t do at the beginning…and that’s another reason why we engage in stories much more than a list of statistics and facts. We feel an emotional engagement with a character achieving something they previously thought they couldn’t. As a viewer, we “root” Police Chief Brody as he strives to find the giant shark terrorizing his hometown in “Jaws.” He overcomes his self-doubt and fear of water to defeat the creature…and he saves the day. He’s embarked on a journey of change, and we’re joining him on that journey. We are committed. It might be 20 years or so since you’ve seen ‘Jaws’ but I bet you can still tell me the story with some degree of accuracy, and tell me how you felt watching it !
“Good stories stay with us longer – it’s as simple as that. This means that leaders who can create and share great stories have a powerful advantage over others. We all know that effective communication is one of the most essential tools in any company’s kitbag. Good stories can embody your ethos and the way you work…they can encourage customers to buy your products or inspire your teams to take on a challenge. We constantly tell stories to our colleagues and peers – to persuade someone to support our project, to explain to an employee how they could improve, or to inspire a team that is facing challenges. If you have a message to get across, it’s more likely to be remembered if it engages those you’re telling it to on an emotional level.
Why should attendees be sure to attend Tribe’s performance at Safety & Health Expo? What will be the main takeaway?
(DM): “I understand there’s never been anything like this before at Safety & Health Expo, it’s new, it’s different…and it’s an opportunity to not be ‘talked about’. At Tribe, we like things a little different and engaging people primarily because we know that in some health and safety circles, people are just being talked into a room…or suffering from “death by PowerPoint”. We want to impact people by surprising them, subverting expectations, engaging them emotionally and making the work we do memorable. Essentially, work becomes “sticky”…because it stays with people.
“And people’s mental health and well-being is so important. We should all take the time to listen to our colleagues (but making sure that we really Listen). It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure people thrive.
What are you looking forward to most from the return of face-to-face events and your return in front of an audience?
(DM): “I’m really looking forward to seeing people in person and connecting with lots of customers and potential customers. There will be many interesting things on our booth (SH2678), for example we will play giant Jenga every day; there will be demonstrations of our culture change membership platform – Chrysalis Culture Hub; many more examples of how we create sticky learning experiences and share with people how those sticky moments fit into the larger strategic approach to culture change.