In the 1980s, Xerox was looking for ways to boost the productivity of its field service staff. Anthropologist Julian Orr was hired to travel with a group of tech reps and observe how they did their jobs.
What Orr saw was that the tech reps spent more time with each other than with customers. They often would gather in common areas and swap stories from the field. Orr noted that although it appeared they were slacking off, they were doing some valuable and useful work.
As it turns out, field service is a social activity that involves the community of tech reps. They weren’t just repairing photocopier machines, they were producing insights about repairing machines better. This discovery led to a change in how Xerox managed tech reps and organised knowledge.
People in every company, both small and large, possess valuable experience and information. Preservation of knowledge and passing on is important for the survival of the organisation. With people moving to different roles, projects or out of the organisation, this knowledge is lost. Storytelling is a great way to document and share this knowledge within the organisation.
Organisations that adopt Project Management practices have procedures to document lessons learned, at the end of every project. A powerful way for Project Managers to elicit and capture learning is through the use of storytelling.
Storytelling in organisations is a means to:
Sharing complex knowledge
Highly contextual and tacit knowledge can be shared through storytelling for better understanding and retention of information.
In order to stay relevant, companies need to constantly unlearn and rethink practices. Existing knowledge can lead to stagnation and appealing to logic to bring about a change doesn’t bear fruit. Storytelling brings in that creative spark, offers fresh perspectives, and eases the unlearning process.
How people of an organisation behave (in a business context) is a direct reflection of company values. A key role of leadership is to provide a compelling context in which the values are lived.
Stories are simulators for the mind. Instruction manuals are handy, but the most effective way to enable learning the ‘what and why’ within organisations is through storytelling.
About The Author
Vinod Krishna is a brand storytelling trainer and consultant at DustyPaths.
He brings 3 decades of experience in leading people, projects, and businesses
to forge new paths in brand storytelling and leadership development.
He is an avid barefoot runner, trekker, theater artist, and photographer.
Connect with him on LinkedIn