Stories are a useful asset

Every partnership is a living story. It has something to say about its heritage, culture, its successes, even its failures. Its people and its beneficiaries generate stories every day.  And yet these stories are often not captured, played back, passed on.

My experience shows that storytelling – and a well managed story bank – can help shift behaviours when it is used to transfer knowledge and ideas, to train, to stimulate collaboration and provide what I call ‘motivational therapy’ in both good and bad times. It can be a useful asset.

Several years back, I was involved in one very intensive business and organisational restructuring programme. When we carried out pulse surveys, they showed that people had bought into the strategic rationale for the change but had trouble being excited about its positive qualities. They had moved themselves physically and intellectually but not emotionally. Merely confirming my belief that if we want to engage people deeply and madly, we need to balance the rational processes with some emotional ones.

We already had a pretty good set of change management tools. Appreciative enquiry methodology devised by David Cooperrider particularly suited our temperament. But I felt we needed something extra, to reach a very culturally and functionally diverse and geographically dispersed workforce.

The ‘a-ha’ moment came whilst listening to a group of managers recounting their recent customer experiences – they were telling  stories. Enough of a cue for us to go away and design a unique, home-grown approach, get backing for it, pilot it, grow its fan base, build up a decent story bank and then roll it out in a few high-profile programs. Storytelling became part of our toolkit.

But why tell stories?

It is a natural human activity, probably as old as the first camp fire. You find it in every culture, tribe, and peer group. We do it every day without realising it.  We don’t talk facts and data to each other, we relate experiences, tell short stories.

Stories are how we make sense of our lives, our relationships, our ideas.

Stories help break down complexity. They bring business principles to life. They provide a personal angle people can relate to.

Stories are memorable. You will probably remember a story much longer than pie charts, graphs or tables. Facts and figures are useful but it is the story behind that data – what led to them and what the consequences could be – that makes the difference.

Stories fill gaps. A story will express how a customer feels when they are given a good or bad experience in the way just looking at a dip or rise in sales or brand preference figures will not.

Stories generate stories, encouraging people to share knowledge and information. They are about experiential learning – sharing experiences, ideas, thoughts, solutions.

And most of all, people enjoy telling stories – they entertain and stimulate.

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