Every organization has its own story – what is yours?
Sharing experiences through stories is not only typical of a friendly chat in an informal environment, but appears in various professions as a good way of sharing and consolidating knowledge. The power of storytelling is its ability to give meaning to complex ideas, to pass on rules and values, to share knowledge, and to develop trust and commitment – all of which are positive effects we want in our organizations.
One of my first socialising events with my Propiar colleagues was a teambuilding event, where we set the values and vision of the company together and established the trust and connection in our team. This socialising event was also important because the managing director shared her experiences with us, talked about the company’s history and its beginnings, as well as past cases and challenges. This is how we started to understand the company’s past and got an insight into what we can expect in the future as a team and what our vision is. We tell each other stories on a daily basis – at lunch, sharing anecdotes from events or meetings; during brainstorming, when sharing suggestions as well as our experiences with similar cases; and on weekly meetings, where analysing the challenges of the past week, each describing the important tasks he / she has faced, discussing the outcome of each project and describing the responses of those involved. Since one of the purposes is passing on a so-called tacit knowledge (knowledge that is difficult to communicate in written or visual form; the ability of managing projects for instance), we especially appreciate the recommendations of our superiors telling us how we could improve at work by sharing their own experience.
Storytelling in organizations can therefore be an effective tool for:
1. Sharing norms and values. At the above-described teambuilding event, our Propiar team formed the visionof our company based on our joint values. Our collective vision: Propiar is based on a strong and trustworthy team characterized by dedication, responsibility and loyalty. We are the drivers of development in the Slovenian public relations field, creating trends and managing changes with our expertise and specialization in various fields of communication.
Our vision is at the same time a story we pass on to each new team member for easier introduction and understanding of the nature of our work.
2. Developing trust and commitment. More or less personal stories from our past (for example, a personal story of our managing director about her career path that led to the establishment of the company) that tell a lot about our skills and commitment to the company and its vision. We also like to share stories about our work with our new colleagues: From describing our “typical” day to how we faced certain challenges and successes, and how we overcame those challenges and celebrated those successes. An example of the visual presentation of our story is our own Wall of Fame that greets the newcomers and us when entering the Propiar premises. It showcases important moments and achievements, as well as the values and vision we follow, while also serving as a confirmation of a Propiar team’s good work and a reminder to maintain our commitment to the company.
3. Sharing tacit knowledge. The point, linked to the development of trust and commitment, concerns sharing of personal experiences or tacit knowledge based on practice. The supervisors and employees who have worked for the company for a longer time take on the role of our mentors and role models, which is especially important in training new employees. We at Propiar made a step further and created Apropó, a youth-oriented project also called a public relations boot camp. As an effective means of sharing tacit knowledge, the project uses storytelling as it is organized in the form of lectures, presentation of good examples and implementation of practice of our agency (the employees take on the role of mentors sharing knowledge and experience through the stories).
4. Creating emotional connection. The stories that trigger an emotional response are those we like to listen to and remember them. The stories that influence emotions are in particular those about irregularities or deviations in our everyday life and situations that are different from the expected. There is certainly no lack of unexpected situations jeopardizing our sense of control (over the project or event for instance) in business, especially in public relations. Such stories contain emotional responses (when everything goes wrong, it’s difficult to stay calm), but this is why they provide knowledge, which is memorable and can help us (or our colleagues) in similar situations. A good and “live” story with embedded emotions will always provide the listener with a substitute experience and thus an easier understanding of the key concepts of the situation.
These examples reveal how widespread stories in our everyday life really are. By integrating different people, content, even a dramatic plot, we can pass on the knowledge, vision, norms and trust in each organization much more successfully than using merely categorization, statistical data and dull analysis. Finally, let me add a proposal or a fun challenge: Think about how you and your company or organization could use storytelling as a successful tool for sharing knowledge, socializing new employees, improving relationships and developing new projects.
Good stories are written by companies that live them.
Resources and further reading: Sole, Deborah in Daniel Gray Wilson. 2002. Storytelling in Organizations: The power and traps of usingstories to share knowledge in organizations. Cambridge: Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dostopno prek: http://www.providersedge.com/docs/km_articles/Storytelling_in_Organizations.pdf.