Throughout history, we’ve been using stories to pass on wisdom and culture; stories are indeed a very communicative form to share knowledge. By telling a story, we can communicate lessons, convey complex concepts, or represent abstract ideas.
So it’s not surprising that some of the world’s leading organizations use stories as a tool to not only educate their employees, but also motivate and inspire them. For instance, Nike preserves the legacy of its prolific co-founder Bill Bowerman, by teaching its managers to communicate his leadership principles and values through stories.
But stories exist within all organizations; it’s common for individuals to share their experiences and goals through anecdotes or narratives over lunch, during meetings, or at the water-cooler.
What stories can do for your organization
Collectively, stories can do a lot for the workplace. And they include the following:
- Strengthen culture – stories can help to convey norms and values derived from the organisations past and also to describe its future, enabling people to connect around a shared narrative.
- Build trust – stories about the organization can convey information about the organization’s trustworthiness to its employees.
- Transfer tacit knowledge – stories about work and real-world situations help to convey tacit knowledge – that are usually embedded in formal processes – in a form that is easier to understand
- Facilitate change – Stories carry an emotional element that rational arguments lack; and this ability to generate an emotional connection is often an important ingredient to accomplish change
- Help employees remember key concepts – Stories have the ability to engage our emotions, they make us feel something; and it is this emotional response that makes knowledge “sticky”
What makes a great story?
Stories for knowledge sharing prioritise informing over entertaining; they serve to convey both information and emotion, communicate both tacit and explicit information, and provide the context. For a story to be a good knowledge-sharing story there are two main ingredients:
A good knowled-sharing story can be easily communicated in the flow of work. So its important that it’s designed to make specific points, cutting out all the fluff and avoiding too much details that might distract from the main idea.
The story has to be relevant to the activities and concerns of its audience otherwise it will lose its impact. And even though the audience might not have directly experienced the situation in the story, it must be probable that they could experience something similar in the course of their work.
Opportunities to infuse stories into the workplace
There are some key moments that present great opportunities for us to share stories and knowledge, and they include:
#1 When kickstarting a new idea
Suppose you’re launching a new product – a great way to get people excited and involved from the get-go is by kicking it off with a story that quickly shares what’s behind the conception of the initiative but also provides the direction and vision of the launch. The compact nature of stories, makes it easy for people to retell it and reach a greater audience in getting them to support the new idea.
#2 When socializing new employees
Stories come in handy when trying to share culture and norms to groups of new employees. Examples of stories to share could include: founder stories to set the tone for resilience and innovation, or success stories to motivate, inspire and communicate expectations.
#3 When leaders impart wisdom
Stories can vividly communicate a leader’s wisdom; leaders can use stories to share their experiences, insights, best practices and know-how in a manner that leaves an impression on his listeners.
What stories do you share in the workplace? Share them in the comments below!