Corporate Story Telling
Knowledge Sharing Through
Malaysia’s transition from a
production-based to a knowledge-based economy has been driven by a desire to create wealth through the generation and exploitation of knowledge. This is seen as a crucial requirement as
Malaysia steers its way towards being a fully developed nation by 2020. To realise this objective, a keconomy master plan that outlines
the major k-economy policy initiatives has been developed.
One of the key initiatives outlined is the development of knowledge workers who are able to develop and leverage on knowledge to produce results that help organisations achieve their objectives.
As part of this initiative, many public and private enterprises in Malaysia have embarked on a series of initiatives that are related to Knowledge Management within their respective organisations. Knowledge Management, very broadly defined, means developing and maintaining a system that enables organisations to create, retain and share knowledge to enable them to be more competitive.
This article is written with the aim of showing how a culture of knowledge sharing may be inculcated through
story telling. It clarifies the difference between knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing and goes on to give examples of what types of stories may be told. The article concludes with a brief description of what it takes to be a good storyteller.
Adoption of Knowledge Management Practices in Malaysia
Despite enormous efforts undertaken by the government and private enterprises to introduce knowledge management in Malaysia, a general sense of reluctance to accept knowledge management as a tool to improve bottom line performance appears to prevail.
The reluctance stems from an uncertainty on whether applying knowledge management principles leads to positive outcomes. Hence, the implementation and sustenance of knowledge management initiatives is contingent on how they contribute towards making the organisation more performance based.
Apart from this, knowledge management initiatives such as knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination and knowledge application require a culture that encourages knowledge sharing. Until and unless such a culture exists, the likelihood of being able to develop and sustain knowledge management efforts will remain elusive.
Knowledge Transfer and Knowledge Sharing
Knowledge is routinely transferred in organisations. The provision of information on operational processes and procedures, standard operating procedures, data, graphs and detailed reports both to management and employees are examples of knowledge transfer.
Knowledge transfer occurs when there is a knowledge source and a knowledge recipient. When the knowledge is transferred, either directly in person or through documents, the recipient has only received the knowledge. In this context the knowledge is transferred.
For knowledge sharing to occur, the knowledge received has to be internalised by the recipient to a point where he or she is able to reconceptualise the knowledge in his or her own manner and in the
Knowledge sharing is one of the most powerful means of developing employee capabilities and at the same time, it is one of the most difficult to encourage in practice.
process, returns that reconceptualised knowledge back to the sender. When this takes place, knowledge sharing takes place.
There is an important difference between knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing. Knowledge transfer is a one-way movement of knowledge that may or may not lead to an increase in knowledge. Knowledge sharing requires a twoway movement that leads to increase in knowledge in both parties.
Knowledge sharing is one of the most powerful means of developing employee capabilities and at the same time, it is one of the most difficult to encourage in practice. The reason is because of the prevalence of a “knowledge is power” mentality, functional silos, individualism, poor means of knowledge capture, inadequate technology, internal competition and top-down decision making. To successfully introduce and encourage knowledge sharing, a culture of knowledge sharing has to be introduced so that it becomes a norm for knowledge to be shared within the organisation.
Developing a Culture for Knowledge Sharing
To make knowledge sharing a norm such that the culture of knowledge sharing takes root, it is necessary to seek for ways and means to make knowledge sharing fun, exciting and inspiring. This would encourage managers and employees alike to share knowledge in an informal, interesting and interactive manner, leading to better interaction between management and employees.
For this to materialise, top management should recognise that the organisation consists of people who have expertise and knowledge that is dispersed throughout the organisation. For this
dispersed knowledge to be harnessed so that the knowledge assets that prevail may be applied to meet organisational objectives, a culture of knowledge sharing has to be nurtured.
Developing such a culture requires an avenue that makes knowledge sharing fun, exciting and inspiring. One of the best ways to do this is through an inexpensive and easy to implement avenue called corporate story telling.
Everyone likes a story and everyone listens to stories. Stories inspire, they energise, they convey messages in a manner that affects peoples’ hearts and minds. When people hear stories that they relate to, they realise that the storyteller has emotions and they become immediately engaged to them at a deeper, personal level. This is because as human beings we make sense of our experiences through stories and we relate better with people who have similar experiences as we do.
Categories of Corporate Story Telling
Many types of stories may be told in any organisational setting. In this article, I shall focus on three categories of corporate story telling. They relate to leadership, employee involvement and customer focus.
Leadership stories can both inspire as well as align employees towards meeting organisational goals.
Leaders can use the power of a good story to influence, inspire and captivate employees. Stories can inspire everything from understanding to action. Leaders can use stories to recount how the organisation struggled in the early days, the sacrifices made and what values helped the organisation surmount the waves of destruction that it had to endure.
Leadership stories that demonstrate what actually happened rekindle the fire of excitement and challenge that has over the years been enveloped by scepticism fuelled by ignorance of past achievements. They inspire and align people towards meeting business strategies and achieving business objectives. They impact not only the mind but also the heart.
Effective story telling is a sharing of wisdom and experience by senior management. It presents a personal feel of what it is like to achieve what has not been achieved before, what it is like to experience the joy of transcending the barriers that barricade organisational growth. It brings to life the essence of any strategy, by lifting the human spirit to a point where it is engulfed by a burning desire to achieve what needs to be achieved for survival.
Stories that highlight these issues capture the imagination of employees and make them see things in a way that is more meaningful than cold, hard facts. Such stories inspire in ways that move people to a point where they want to be part of a tradition of excellence.
Involvement stories overwhelm and excite employees to a point they feel like being part of an adventure that unfolds in their midst.
Stories on personal achievements both of managers and front line employees have a very strong impact on the level of involvement shown at work. This has been demonstrated in many instances where managers and employees are asked to share their stories on how they were able to surmount difficulties and develop a deep sense of belonging to the organisation. This done routinely will help enhance the level of involvement and commitment employees have towards the organisation.
Through effective story telling on the merits of empowerment, team based problem solving and individual success stories developed through personal development efforts, employees can appreciate how being involved at work helps them elevate their ability to contribute.
The positive aspects of being actively involved at work through story telling can extinguish the negative influence of grapevine occurring sporadically and informally within the organisation. Done routinely, it can stem the tide of resentment towards management and the organisation as a whole.
Customer Focus Stories
Attempts made to inculcate a sense of customer focus within front line operators often involve displaying posters of customer service and some training on how to be more customer focused. These initiatives may have an initial impact in the beginning but tend to taper off when these employees face the realities on the ground. The change in behaviour is temporary.
In order for a “customer centric” mindset to be set up, story telling on customer experiences, how the company managed to deliver more than what it promised and what really happened when customers expectations were unmet makes a difference. The employees in a sense are able to experience what was experienced both by the service provider as well as the customer, feel the sense of empathy and frustration and relish the joy of accomplishment and delight faced in a positive customer interaction. This humanises the customer experience and over time changes the core beliefs of the front line employees on how the company as a whole treats both internal and external customers. When these stories of accomplishment become common knowledge, the value of customer focus is repeatedly driven into the minds of the employees and over time a customer centric culture evolves.
Requirements for Telling Good Stories
In order to develop the skills needed for being a good corporate storyteller, a number of prerequisites have to be met when narrating the stories. The stories have to be authentic, they have to be in tune with the needs of the audience, they have to be experiential and most importantly, they have to be purposeful.
The best storytellers talk from their hearts. They tell the story as they have experienced it with all the highs and lows that go with the story. They have to be sincere and speak in a manner that excites the mind and captures the heart. They need to make the story comes alive in the minds of the audience to a point the audience can see what the story teller saw and can feel what the story teller felt.
When these stories of accomplishment become common knowledge, the value of customer focus repeatedly driven into the minds of the employees and over time a customer centric culture evolves.
Audience needs focus
The members of an audience in any story telling exercise have their own expectations, levels of understanding and ability to grasp the message inherent in a story. If the story has a message that the audience can relate to and find useful, they will reciprocate and internalise the message easily. The audience can appreciate a story they can relate to and which makes them reassess their beliefs and value systems. The stories have to be meaningful and insightful. Otherwise they would not relish the benefits of the storytelling session.
A good story conveys the experience of one person in a manner that enables the listener to experience what actually happened. It immediately engages the mind of the listener in visualising what happened and engages the heart in feeling what was felt. It transcends hierarchy and designation variations and emphasises the oneness of human emotion and over time builds bonds that last a lifetime.
Therefore stories should convey very vividly the experiences one actually had or that one has read about. In the process of conveying the experience, the message inherent in the story lingers on long after the story has been told because the experience shared becomes part of the psyche of the listener.
Story telling must be purposeful. They must inspire, excite or involve the employees to a point where they want to do better than what they have done before. The purpose of the story has to be clearly understood and the story selected should be one that meets this purpose perfectly. This may be a challenge as most often it is difficult to come up with a story for all situations. However it would be possible to compile stories told and explicate these stories either as a form of verbally recorded narratives or in writing so that over time a repository of stories may be developed.
In summary, encouraging story telling is a simple and very effective way of sharing knowledge in organisations. Done as a matter of routine, this practice can lead to the development of a culture of knowledge sharing that will foster the right environment for knowledge management to take root. i For more details on developing a knowledge sharing culture in your organisation, please contact the author at email@example.com