Storytelling: A skill that needs to be rekindled
Narrative enquiry technique can be used to understand what lies behind the annual employee engagement survey numbers and what learning styles actually work
Storytelling is an invaluable tool to inspire, influence and provide insight in a business context
A concept rapidly picking up pace across the world of business is storytelling. Business storytelling is a simple yet effective tool to harnesses the power of stories to connect, engage and inspire. Stories have excited, moved and taught us many things while we were growing up. The earliest stories, expressed as cave paintings, predate the birth of language. We all remember leaning in to listen to stories told by our favourite uncle or aunt when we were young.
That storytelling is useful only for entertainment is a myth. It is an invaluable tool to inspire, influence and provide insight in a business context. This tool needs to cross over to the business side of life. And this can only happen when L&D leaders understand its power and bring this skill into their organizations.
While the art of good storytelling is a helpful skill for anyone, it is most necessary for professionals for whom communication is crucial. Frontline, sales, marketing, business development or product presentation roles are among those where storytelling skills come in handy. Storytelling is also a competitive advantage for anyone who likes to connect, engage and inspire. In today’s work environment, the growing dependence on collaboration has made communication central to both survival and success. Let’s take a few situations where the ability for great communication is important for any leader.
We are all creating networks internally and externally all the time. We meet people and introduce ourselves and we hope to build a rapport. We hope people will remember us after they have met us. Most of us usually introduce ourselves like a mini-resume “born here, studied there, worked there and there and now here.” The problem with this approach is that the listener hears 15 to 20 such mini-resumes every week. Why should they remember us and, more importantly, what should they remember us for?
We recommend the use of connection stories while introducing ourselves. Connection stories are short relevant real life stories about us which create a hook in the mind of the listener and also let them infer something about our character. For example, a story from my childhood about how I had created a comic circulating library and made some pocket money can leave the listener with an understanding of my entrepreneurial drive. And as we know, character always trumps credentials.
A second example is what we call clarity stories. Leaders are always coming up with new ideas and approaches they would like to bring into the organisation. Getting everyone else to understand and remember these ideas is a difficult thing, especially when what is being proposed is a change. Clarity stories help people connect with the bigger picture and understand the reason for the change.
Other kinds of stories that are useful in business are called influence stories — used when we need to overcome old entrenched views and make way for the new — and success stories, for communicating business values without using stereotypical case studies. Story listening is a very powerful way of understanding “what is really going on”. For instance, organizations can use this narrative enquiry technique to understand what lies behind the annual employee engagement survey numbers. This technique can also help L&D leaders understand what really works when it comes to the learning styles of an organization.
We believe that while well-run workshops and training programs are a great way to understand and begin the journey for learning a new skill, we need to ensure that the learning is taken from workshop to workplace. The best way to embed business storytelling skills is to conduct practice programs for at least 6 months where practical on-the-job activities can be used to reinforce lessons.